While the nation mourns the loss of those who paid the ultimate price in service to their country on this Memorial Day, the grieving is a little more fresh and personal for many in the University of North Georgia family.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Weston C. Lee, a 2014 UNG graduate, was killed April 29 in Iraq when an improvised explosive device detonated during a patrol outside Mosul. He was a paratrooper assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division and was on his first deployment.
Army Reserve Sgt. Nick Shaw, Lee’s roommate his last year on the Dahlonega campus, was at Arlington National Cemetery last week when Lee was laid to rest. Steven Kronenberg, UNG development officer, and members of Lee’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity were also among the estimated 250 people at at the service. Shaw and Kronenberg are also members of the fraternity.
“I had been to Arlington before, but it’s got a completely different meaning now, to know someone who is actually there, that you had a personal connection to that person,” said Shaw, who added that Lee had chosen beforehand to buried in Arlington, where one of his family members is also buried.
Kronenberg called the service at Arlington “humbling,” and both said they were glad to see many from the fraternity come to the service, one of whom made the trip from Alaska.
“It’s been pretty cool and everybody is kind of rallying around each other,” Shaw said.
In Dahlonega, efforts are underway to give permanent recognition to Lee. His name is being added to the UNG Alumni Association’s Memorial Wall, and a scholarship is also being created in his name.
The wall lists the names of former students who died in service to their country, as well as students who died while enrolled at UNG. There are more than 240 names listed on the wall going back to World War I.
UNG officials said last week Lee’s name is scheduled to be engraved on the wall in early June.
“In your first week (as a student), you walk through all the monuments that are on campus,” Shaw said. “You look at the wall and you don’t really don’t know any of those people, but once you actually know someone, it really changes your perspective.”
The scholarship, which will go to a UNG student who, like Lee, has made a commitment to military service after graduation, is being processed through Kronenberg’s office. He said about $63,000 has been raised so far toward the $100,000 goal. The money will be put into an endowment from which the scholarships will be awarded.
Shaw said the scholarship will make sure “nobody forgets who Weston was and what he stands for.”
Kronenberg said school officials were already talking about the possibility of a scholarship when they learned that two Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity brothers had already raised more than $30,000 on a GoFundMe website.
“The goal is $100,000 by the end of the summer,” Kronenberg said. “Even when we get to $100,000, we are probably going to do some events to honor Weston.”
Kronenberg said he briefly met Lee in 2014 when he came back to work at his alma mater, but didn’t know him.
“Since he passed away, I learned a lot about him,” Kronenberg said. “Learning more about him since he has passed away has made me want to be a better person.”
Shaw said the month that has passed since his friend died has not taken the pain away.
“There’s no other way to put it other than it sucks,” he said. “You really can’t put Weston in words on a piece of paper. If you could picture what an American soldier would be, that’s what you would have with Weston.”
Kronenberg said the scholarship will soon have a website, but donations to the scholarship can be made at https://unggive.org/support-ung/give-now designating the gift to the 1st Lt. Weston Lee Scholarship. For more information about the scholarship contact Kronenberg at Steven.Kronenberg@ung.edu.