It is Memorial Day Weekend. This weekend is always very hard for me because of how much I idolized my grandfather, Raymond E. Dillon. He was a World War II veteran of the Army Air Corps, and even though he passed away 20 years ago my home has many of his military decorations. I have the flag from his funeral, his various uniform insignia, and a few of his training certificates since he was a mechanic on B-29's. One thing he instilled in me was a deep respect of those who serve in our Armed Forces, especially over the Memorial Day holiday.
Today we honor one of the fallen Purdue alumni in Kevin Landeck. Landeck was a 2004 graduate of Purdue and a former pole vaulter in high School. Originally from Wheaton, IL (the home of Dan Dierking), he was a Sociology grad, but he attended Purdue as a member of Army ROTC. On February 2, 2007 he was on patrol in Iraq when his Humvee was hit by an IED and he was killed. He was the 3,093rd U.S. death in Iraq.
I selected Landeck for this Profile In Badassery because he was a very public face for Purdue ROTC Alumni. He accepted an officer's commission upon graduation and had reached the rank of Captain by the time of his death. It was through Purdue's ROTC program that he met his wife, 2nd Lt. Bethany Landeck. Here is what the Purdue Army ROTC had to say about him:
Landeck, a Purdue alumnus and former member of Army ROTC, was killed when the Humvee he was traveling in was struck by a roadside bomb Feb. 2 near Baghdad. He was assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, N.Y.
Lt. Col. Dan Carpenter, professor of military science, slowly approached the podium. He looked at the memorial for Landeck, an upturned M4 Carbine with Landeck's dog tags dangling from it and a helmet on top. The Purple Heart and Bronze star were placed on either side with the Combat Infantryman Badge positioned between the boots in front.
"We have lost a comrade," said Carpenter, the head of the Army ROTC program at Purdue. "In times like this we feel helpless. But we can do what we can. We can honor our comrade."
Landeck's wife, 2nd Lt. Bethany Landeck, sat in the front row.
"Bethany shared with me that Landeck's memories from Purdue and (ROTC) are of his fondest," said Carpenter. "This was his first band of brothers. He even met his wife here."
Landeck was more than just Purdue, however. There are a number of tributes out there that can do this badass more justice than I. First, we have a piece from Jeff Brokaw:
Kevin Landeck grew up here in Wheaton; he attended the same high school as my oldest son, though a few years earlier. I never had the privilege of knowing the young man.
But now I wish I had. Everybody liked him, and his fellow soldiers wanted to serve in his platoon. There is no higher compliment for a leader in the armed forces.
There are so many thoughts and feelings that run through me when I read about young people, like Kevin, who take the kind of risks that most of us only dream about. Things like, "heroic", and "a better man than I". And then I think about his parents, and his young wife, and the children he'll never have.
Oftentimes, that's when the tears begin to fall. Such a damn shame.
Next, we have another tribute from another blog called Spread the Word:
Bethany had met Landeck when they were both students at Purdue University. Born in Wheaton, Landeck had attended Whittier Elementary, Edison Middle School and Wheaton Warrenville South. He graduated from Purdue in 2004, was stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., and married Bethany last May.
While Bethany is still stationed at Fort Drum as a second lieutenant in the National Guard, Landeck was sent to Iraq six months ago for a year-long tour. Early on the morning of Feb. 2, he spoke with Rich, his father, and Jennifer, his sister, online, telling them how he looked forward to the time when he could return home.
Later that day, he was headed with two other soldiers to Baghdad from a small town south of the city where they were based. He was killed instantly when an IED exploded near the Humvee in which he was riding.
As he delivered the funeral's eulogy, the Rev. Thomas Sularz said Landeck became a "man for others" as he led his troops.
"Kevin took his responsibilities to heart and his primary objective was to bring his men back unharmed," Sularz said.
Johnson, a commanding general at the Army garrison at Rock Island Arsenal, recalled some phrases used to describe Landeck by those he commanded, including "angel on earth."
"His soldiers were put on a very, very tough mission of teaching the Iraqis how to live in a free country," Johnson said. "Kevin laid the way for that, he made it real for those young Iraqis."
Finally, we have a blog from the Chicago Tribune that showcases some of Landeck's personal e-mails:
"I talked with a commanding officer about going out at night and using our night vision to watch for bad guys who are planting roadside bombs and `introduce them to my little friend.' But I was denied permission.
"I don't understand why they wouldn't let me do that. When we drive down the road there are IEDs going off and bullets bouncing off our Humvees and it scares us. I thought, why should we be the ones who are scared?
"I wish they would let us do our jobs. I am looking forward to coming home in April for my two-week leave. I will only have four months left in this hellhole and then I can be home with Bethany (his wife), my dog and pizza. I will call you and mom in a couple of days. Don't worry about me. I am doing OK. Love, Kevin."
Nov. 3: "The higher-ups like to run the war with a map and a radio. I am the guy on the ground and out front, so I do what I think is right and whatever is going to bring everyone home safe. Anyway, I am just venting. Life gets frustrating here sometimes but I am glad I have my buddies and Bethany to help me cope. My hair is like two inches long on top so they call me `Red' or `Crazy Red.'
"It is pretty cool to say I have led men in combat but like I say, I just try to get everyone home."
I just try to get everyone home. Landeck, as a leader, knew that it was his responsibility to keep the men under his command safe. Those are simple words, but to me, they speak volumes about Landeck's character, and I never even met him.
I know there have been others who have given their lives in service to this great country we call home. Purdue's ROTC program is a top notch program that sends many young men and women into service each year. Landeck is just one of many, but it is my hope that he will be the face, at least on this humble blog, of those that we honor at this time of year, every year.
I know I joke around about the badassed status, but men like Landeck truly are badasses because they lead by example. The leap without looking and stand up for those that cannot stand for themselves. I am thankful for their service every day, just as my grandfather taught me long ago. It seems as if everyone is touched personally by someone who has served. I come from a family where thankfully, everyone served safely. Others, like Landeck, are not so lucky. Remember them this weekend.
Thank you to those in my family who have served:
Ian Lilly - U.S. Army and Operation Iraqi Freedom - cousin
Frank Van Winkle - U.S. Navy and Vietnam - grandfather
William Miller - U.S. Navy and Korean War - grandfather
Raymond Dillon - U.S. Army Air Corps and World War II - grandfather
Alexander Lilly - U.S. Navy - Uncle