By Roslyn Anderson
The family of a Clarke County Marine killed in Iraq is hoping the military will allow them to adopt the bomb-sniffing dog assigned to their son.
Corporal Dustin J. Lee and his German shepherd were inseparable, even until the moment they were both attacked by enemy fire in Fallujah.
Master Sargeant Jerome Lee held a picture of his son "Dusty" in a Santa hat -- by his side in a miniature version of the hat is his dog Lex. The picture was taken in December of 2006.
It is the last holiday photo Jerome and Rachel Lee have of their first born son Dustin.
The 20 year old died March 21st during a combat operation in Anbar Province, Iraq. He was killed 17 days before his birthday on April 7th and about six weeks before he was scheduled to return home.
Lex, his explosive detecting K-9, was at his side.
"Shrapnel hit both of them, took them down. The dog didn't want to leave him... That was the last thing that Dusty saw," said Lee.
Dustin's father is a 25 year veteran of the Mississippi Highway Patrol.
He also served 29 years in the Mississippi National Guard.
Jerome Lee said his son was so moved by the events of September 11th that like him , Dusty signed up for the military before graduating from Quitman High School in 2004.
He finished first in his class as a Marine Corp dog handler.
"Dusty started when he was about five years old dealing with search and rescue dogs. He would go hide in the woods and let the dogs come find him," said the proud father as he choked back tears.
A nearly five mile procession honored the fallen Marine in his hometown of Quitman.
His canine friend was there.
"Dusty and Lex were a team. Lex was sent back to the funeral. He was given medication where he would be calm," said Lee.
The Lee family is now petitioning the Marine Corps to allow them to adopt Lex.
They have contacted Mississippi and Georgia congressmen and senators, and a website has been created honoring Dustin and asking for support in their efforts.
It's been eight months since the Lee family lost Dustin.
They're hoping that by the holidays the military will allow Lex to officially become a member of their family.
"Nothing can bring Dusty back, but our mission is to bring the dog home," said Lee.
The elder Lee calls the kennel at Marine Corp Logistics in Albany Georgia a few times a week checking on Lex, who still has shrapnel near his spine.
Dustin, Lex's handler of three years, was described as compassionate and patriotic.
While the void in their lives will not be filled, the Lee's say they will be comforted by caring for their son's best four legged friend.
"He cared about the dog very much. I know that he would like to see the dog back home," Lee added.
For more information on the Lee's efforts to adopt Lex, log onto the memorial site at www.remembercpldustinlee.blogspot.com.
Also, North Carolina Representative Walter B. Jones is spearheading an effort to allow Corporal Dustin Lee's parents to adopt Lex. Click on the following link to be taken to a petition where you can add your support to the effort. www.retirelex.blogspot.com