© 2005 Gordon Alexander ~ Rev. Jerry Falwell speaks
"I'm bulletproof until the Lord calls me home"
Sgt. Jesse Strong ~ killed in Iraq
Young Marine was due home next month

Posted 02.07.05

ORLEANS, VT | Rev. Nate Strong, pastor at Albany Methodist Church, stumbled awkwardly as he walked up the stairs to the stage at his son Jesse's funeral.

From the congregation there were gasps, and then laughter as they realized that he was imitating his son who purposefully fell at his graduation -- just for laughs.

The pastor composed himself and then proceeded to the lectern and told the some 1000 people in the gym " I had to do that just for Jesse."

It was clear from what was said about the 24-year-old US Marine sergeant at his funeral at the Lake Region Union High School in Orleans, that he was serious but with a broad sense of humor, intensely patriotic, and at the same time possessing a deep religious faith.

His patriotism and faith were exhibited at his graduation in 2003: "I'm bulletproof until the Lord calls me home to be with Him," he said

"Lord, you gave us a young man with a great and goofy sense of humor and your have taken a serious and dedicated Marine who leaves behind, a Purple Heart," said Rev Dean Weaver, Jesse's Uncle from Buffalo, NY.

Jesse Strong was the 14th Vermonter to be killed in action in Iraq.

According to a published report, on the evening of Jan, 26, Marine Sgt. Jesse Strong of Company "C" and the 2nd platoon was riding in a convoy in Hadithah in Iraq. He and three others were sweeping for mines and to make sure the area was devoid of rebels in order to protect the Iraqi people.

A fire-fight broke out between insurgents and the soldiers. Strong and three other marines were killed when the Hummer they were riding in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Strong joined the Marine reserves in 2001 before the Sept 11 terrorists attacks on the United States. He arrived in Iraq last August and was due to come home in March.

The service began at 4 p. m. as Marine pallbearers carried Jesse's flag -draped casket to the front of the crowded Gymnasium

" It is amazing that one boy could cause so many ripples," said Rev. Jerry Falwell. "God raised him up to do big things in a short time -- It was appropriate for him to flame out so quickly."

Rev. Falwell, a nationally recognized Christian minister and television evangelist is chancellor of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. from which Strong graduated in 2003. The Rev. Falwell is also National Chairman of the controversial Moral Majority movement.

"You are not dead, you're more alive than ever -- oh how I envy you, how I wish I was there with out savior," were the lyrics sung by Strong's best friend Nate Jackson as he accompanied himself on the guitar playing the song he wrote last night to honor his friend and former college roommate.

At the side of the auditorium a huge projected portrait of Jesse looked down on the crowd as friends, relatives, and loved ones took the stage to tell their stories of a special young man who died for his country.

In a congregation of family, mourners, neighbors, Marines, soldiers, politicians, teachers, and preachers there were smiles and tears as they each said goodbye in their own way.

On that projection screen the crowd saw Jesse's life story flash by, at play, as a child, in college, his time in the seminary, to his last days as a Marine in Iraq. Setting the mood for the slide show was music by James Taylor and the theme "Eye of the Tiger "e; from Rocky.

Included in the full military service was an address from Governor Jim Douglas. Honorary guests with Gov. Douglas were Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, as well as other local county political representatives . Also attending was Major General Martha Rainville, Adjutant General of the Vermont National Guard.

After the memorial service as the crowd filed slowly out of the room, Marines took turns standing watch over Jesse's Coffin. The casket was now standing bare after the flag was ceremoniously folded and handed to Jesse's mother, Vicki Strong. while a bugler played taps.

Ray Decelles, owner of Ray's market, where Jesse worked while in high School, read a eulogy written by Jesse's brother Matthew, 22 of Pittsburg, Pa. and sister Heather 22. of Grantham, Pa. "I thank God for every memory of you -- the memories will last us a lifetime," he said

Jesse, a typical avid Vermont sportsman, enjoyed hunting, golf, and baseball. In the floral arrangement at the front of the church by the flag draped coffin were some hunting arrows, along with various candid photos of Jesse.

Pastor Dwayne Carson of Liberty University said "We are a better campus because of him --I wish we could have a thousand like him."

In closing, Rev. Falwell said "Jesse Strong wasn't afraid to explain his faith -- stand up for Christ everywhere -- and don't give a flip who likes it."

Jesse Strong's body will rest in a tomb in Hardwick until after the spring thaw. He will then be buried in the old Chamberlin Hill Cemetery in Albany, next to a plot belonging to his father.

Copyright © 2005 Gordon Alexander/Log Cabin Chronicles/02.05