As Nation Remembers, Virginia Family Mourns

A Marine honor guard presented two flags to the family of Lance Cpl. Jourdan Grez, one to his mother and one to his 23-month-old son.
A Marine honor guard presented two flags to the family of Lance Cpl. Jourdan Grez, one to his mother and one to his 23-month-old son. (By Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 28, 2005

Yesterday, on the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, when America honors its war dead, Marine Lance Cpl. Jourdan Grez was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery -- the 139th service member killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom to be buried there.

Grez, a resident of Harrisonburg, Va., was one of four Marines killed when their amphibious assault vehicle hit an explosive device in Karabilah on May 11.

He leaves behind his parents, two brothers, his girlfriend and a 23-month-old son, Colin Lovell, who solemnly accepted a folded flag presented by a kneeling Marine yesterday while perched on his weeping mother's lap.

More than 250 of Grez's family, friends and former classmates at James Madison University gathered to pay tribute to the 24-year-old, who attended JMU from 1999 to 2004.

Miniature flags -- placed on more than 250,000 graves by the 3rd U.S. Infantry, the Old Guard, as a Memorial Day tribute -- dipped and whirled in the brisk warm breeze that swept through Arlington.

As Grez's mother, Andrea Grez, sobbed, comforted by her husband, Navy chaplain Robert Rearick told the family that Grez's sacrifice has an honorable history -- "the same sort of sacrifice that has been made by others for this country since 1776," he said.

With baseball caps doffed, a dozen veterans watched the ceremony from across the road. They were among tens of thousands of motorcyclists who have roared into town for the 18th annual Rolling Thunder Ride for Freedom, to pay homage to soldiers who never made it home.

One, Gary Hollon of Middletown, Ohio, put his hand over his heart as the service began.

Just a week ago yesterday, Hollon buried his 20-year-old nephew, Lance Cpl. Taylor Prazynski, nearby.

"Two or three graves from him," Hollon said before the service, nodding at the Grez burial site.

As Grez's family bent forward in grief and pressed tissues to their eyes, Colin wiggled down from the lap of his mother, Lael Lovell, and lay on his side on the ground, playing briefly with the artificial turf before being lifted back up.

Lovell and Grez met at a restaurant in Harrisonburg where both worked, family members have said. Colin was born in June 2003.

In order to better provide for the boy, Grez enlisted in the Marine Reserves and served with the 4th Combat Battalion, 4th Marine Division out of Roanoke. He was deployed to Iraq this year and was expecting to return in September.

"He joined the Marine Corps to prove to his girlfriend and his son that he was an honorable man," his brother Armand Grez III, 29, of Arlington said shortly after his brother's death.

As the wind rustled the trees overhead and aircraft from nearby Reagan National Airport roared by, Gunnery Sgt. Barry Baker presented Andrea Grez with the folded flag from her son's casket. Her face swollen with tears, she pressed her hands to the memento on her lap. Her husband placed his hand over hers, and they leaned together on their seats in front of their son's casket.

As Colin received the second flag, he gazed at Baker, looked down at the flag and then up at his mother, as his grandmother watched, tears streaming down her face.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company