A Surprise mother who lost one of her sons to enemy gunfire while serving in Iraq is helping to carry through on his message of goodwill to others.
Marc Lee, who on Aug. 2, 2006, was the first Navy Seal to be killed by enemy forces during the war in Iraq, sent home a letter to loved ones that wound up striking a nerve with his mother, Debbie.
Debbie Lee tears up and feels a rush of emotions whenever she reads her late son’s letter. The one-page call to action tells people to look inside themselves for introspection and discover ways to assist a stranger – regardless of whether they need a helping hand – rather than self-benefit.
Lee found it a perfect opportunity to pay it forward on a day of meaningful significance.
To commemorate “Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day” Wednesday, she visited a number of Surprise restaurants, coffee shops and other places of business in the hopes of running into Vietnam War veterans to pay for their meal or cup of coffee.
“It’s a simple way of saying thanks for their sacrifice,” she said.
While speaking with veterans of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War, Lee distributed her son’s letter — along with thank you and welcome home cards — to commemorate the occasion that was officially adopted earlier this month by the U.S. Senate.
Don Mansfield and his wife, Sue, were enjoying omelets at a Village Inn in Surprise when Lee approached the Sun City West couple and wound up picking up their tab after finding out Mansfield served in the Vietnam War.
As many families who share a connection with the military, Mansfield took to Lee’s story immediately, tearing up over the fact the single mother of three lost a son to the war and that she has an inherent appreciation for those who served.
Mansfield, who served in the Air Force from 1967 to 1968, said he didn’t experience the vitriol many vets received upon their return to the U.S., but knows the American public has come a long way since, in its appreciation and gratitude for the military.
“It was the sign of the times,” he said of the counterculture of the 1960s and the anti-government sentiment. “This sentiment by Debbie makes me feel good. She didn’t have to do this, but it was such a nice gesture.”
Lee also picked up the tab of Robert and Lois Gossman at Village Inn, after speaking with Gossman and finding out he not only served in the Vietnam War, but also World War II and the Korean War.
The former Air Force pilot recounted numerous tales from his days in the service that had Lee asking questions and sharing memories of Marc.
“She didn’t have to do this, but I appreciate it,” Gossman said.
After spotting the war memorabilia Ansis Markitans was wearing inside a Starbucks in Surprise, Lee approached the war veteran and offered to reimburse him for the cup of coffee he had already purchased.
The Sun City Grand resident, who served in the Air Force from 1966 to 1967 during the Vietnam War, said Lee’s gesture was a “nice token of appreciation.” He said he was surprised someone would go out of their way and extend a thank you in such a manner.
Lee started America’s Mighty Warriors in memory of her son, Marc, whose name means Mighty Warrior.
The nonprofit aims to help military soldiers deployed overseas, as well as families who have lost loved ones, in any way possible. Visit www.americasmightywarriors.org for more information.
“People’s lives are still being impacted by this young man,” Lee said.
Zach Colick can be reached 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.