Nathan Perez, son of a 7th MSC Soldier, and a student at Kaiserslautern American High School, led his Boy Scout troop in the restoration of a 20 year-old memorial to a deceased student on October 6, 2018 at Kaiserslautern Middle School, on Vogelweh.
Two decades ago this month, the memorial was erected in honor of Erick Lynch, a former Kaiserslautern American High School student, tragically killed in a fall while hiking in the Swiss Alps in July of 1998.
One day in September, while looking for a quiet place to read, Perez happened upon the statue in a court yard adjacent the old high school wing.
Standing about 5 feet tall, with pedestal, the statue is of a cherub with a bow and quiver of arrows. It was a memorial to a young man whose life was cut short; aged just 16 years
As he took in the scene and read the plaque, Perez's curiosity was stirred. He wanted to know more about Erick Lynch, he said.
The memorial didn't appear to have seen much attention over recent years and was covered in grime and moss. The hedges were overgrown and tangled. In front, a ring of small planters was also carpeted in moss, soil, and debris from the trees overhead.
"I came home and Googled his name," Perez wrote. He found the original article about Lynch's July 23, 1998 fatal accident in an archive from Stars and Stripes. He also read a series of posts from Lynch's many friends and family members that spoke to Erick's conscientiousness, outgoing personality, and the high regard with which he was held by others. Like Perez, he was also a Boy Scout
"I instantly felt 'connected' to him. We also hike in Kanderstag, Switzerland," Perez wrote.
Jessica Perez, Nathan's mom, assisted him in making contact with the Lynches. Erick's father Patrick and his mother, Diane Lynch live in Colorado Springs. Patrick is now retired from the military. Soon there were several messages exchanged between the two families.
Nathan had decided to make restoring the memorial his Eagle Scout project. He asked the Lynches if that'd be all right. Their reaction was deeply emotional.
"Tears!" Diane replied in a recent interview. "And then a tremendous amount of gratitude that someone cared."
The Lynches remained here in Kaiserslautern for four more years after Erick's death so that his younger brother could complete high school. The statue had been erected in an original project by Lynch's Troop 84 scout mates, in October of the year Erick died. During that period it was well tended.
But over the years, military families move on and take their young scouts with them. Gradually, new families came in. No one really remembered the memorial or to whom it was dedicated and it went quietly into decline.
A decade later, the Lynches were once again stationed in Europe, this time in the United Kingdom. They visited the statue twice, in 2009 and then again in 2011.
"Each time left us feeling sad that it was neglected. One of the hardest parts of losing someone is that even 20 years later, I still feel the loss, and haven't forgotten," Diane said.
"But then Nathan did something that very few adults would do, let alone a young man, and that was to put into action his care," she said.
What's more, Perez inspired fellow scouts and family members to assist in the project, and soon more than half a dozen people were involved.
"That is an attribute of an Eagle Scout," Diane said of Perez's leadership.
They raked leaves, picked up branches, neatly trimmed the tangled hedge, removed an old wire fence, and power washed, scraped and brushed away the layers of moss and grime.
Nathan and his dad, Sgt. 1st Class Juan Perez, who is also the Troop 232 Scoutmaster, restored to new-like condition the rotted wood and rusted iron of an old bench that sat near the memorial.
Landscape rock was laid in the main garden bed, and alternating red and white tulips were seeded in the small row of planters. These are the colors of the Kaiserslautern American High School 'Raiders". Sixteen tulips were planted in all, one for each year that Erick lived.
"We heard from Erick's mom that Erick was actually fond of tulips, because the family used to visit Holland every year to see the blooms," Jessica Perez said. "That was interesting, because Nathan didn't know that until after he decided on those particular flowers."
That the Lynches were appreciative may be an understatement. They know how difficult it might be, but Diane expressed hopes that someone will find a way to maintain the memorial. But with the construction of new schools in the area, the facilities that wrap the memorial are reported to be slated for eventual destruction. She wasn't sure that the time and money needed to protect or relocate the memorial were available.
"My hope is that for as long as possible students, teachers, children and anyone else who finds it would be able to take a moment to ponder how short life is and then feel the spirit of love that has been poured into this peaceful place by the original builders and by Nathan," she said.