In 2012, some seven years before I would be assigned to First Army and Rock Island Arsenal, I was asked to represent the Army at the funeral of Cpl. Bryant J. Luxmore, a young Quad Cities-area Soldier killed in Afghanistan. It was one of the honors of my career to do so, and this month I was deeply touched at the chance to reunite with his wonderful family shortly before Memorial Day.
I met with Cpl. Luxmore’s parents, Brenda and Leonard, and his widow, Jaimie, at beautiful Hopewell Cemetery in New Windsor, Ill. As a young boy, Cpl. Luxmore had mowed the lawn of this small, country cemetery where he now rests.
When I attended his funeral in 2012, I knew one thing for sure: Cpl. Luxmore was an American hero. But as I spent time talking with those who loved him most, I learned so much more about this young patriot, and I’d like to share his story with our all of you.
Bryant J. Luxmore – B.J. to all who loved him – was a small-town son of Illinois. He was quiet and reserved, with a wicked sense of humor for those lucky enough to know him well.
His family meant everything to him – his mother, Brenda; father, Leonard; his brother and lifelong best friend, Brock.
Corporal Luxmore loved deeply, and that was never more true than when he met and married the love of his life, Jaimie, a small-town Illinois girl herself. They had a son, Lane, a perfect little boy who would grow to love the St. Louis Cardinals as much as his father did.
From when he was very young, Cpl. Luxmore had talked about the Army. His mom encouraged him to go to college, and he did, but, to put it simply, he had a heart for service.
Shortly after graduating from Illinois College in 2009, Corporal Luxmore enlisted. He and the Army were in instant agreement on where an athletic, hard-charging, methodical guy like him would fit best: the Infantry. As his wife Jaimie would put it, “B.J. thought if he was going to serve, he wanted to be at the tip of the spear.”
Corporal Luxmore was assigned to the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. He, Jaimie and Lane settled into Fort Stewart, Georgia, in the fall of 2011. The following spring, he deployed to Afghanistan. It was a painful goodbye.
Shortly after arriving in country, Cpl. Luxmore began keeping a journal. The very first entry he wrote would be prescient: “If you don’t live for something, you will die for nothing.”
Corporal Luxmore’s unit was tasked with patrolling in and around the district of Panjwai, the birthplace of the Taliban and a stronghold for anti-American fighters. On June 10, just two months into his first deployment, Cpl. Luxmore’s unit came under enemy small-arms fire. He was killed in action.
I well know the grief on the ground among soldiers on days like this: the ramp ceremony, the color guard, the final, pit-in-your-stomach roll call.
I also know the heartbreak back home: a young wife meeting a flag-draped coffin at the military mortuary in Dover; a mother collapsing to her knees upon hearing the news; a tough-guy big brother weeping on his father’s shoulder.
I will never forget the outpouring of love for this young Soldier here in the Quad Cities area: the high school gym filled to capacity … the athletic display cases with trophy after trophy won by a young B.J. Luxmore … the miles of highway lined with people waving flags as the funeral procession passed by … the pain in the Luxmores eyes as I handed them the folded American flag and uttered those timeless words: “On behalf of a grateful nation.”
Here’s the thing about Memorial Day. Each of us as American citizens can do our part by slowing down and consciously reflecting on the men and women who have been willing to serve and sacrifice – even to die – for us. We can be humbled and grateful and – I hope – overwhelmed by that kind of selfless valor.
But for families like the Luxmores, this day is personal and poignant. They live in a state of remembrance.
On this Memorial Day weekend, Brenda and Leonard Luxmore are grieving the recent death of Brenda’s father. As he’d laid dying in a hospital bed two weeks ago, suffering from a long and lingering illness, Brenda had whispered that it was ok to let go, to “go be with B.J.”
Jaimie has found love again, remarrying a few years ago. He is a kind and generous man who the Luxmores have welcomed into their lives like a third son. The couple now have a 3-year-old boy who follows around his big brother the way B.J. once followed Brock.
And Lane, that little boy who lost his dad before he’d fully developed lasting memories of him, is now 12 and the spitting image of Cpl. Luxmore. He’s quiet and reserved to outsiders, but a joy to those who know him. He values family above all else. But perhaps most of all – just like his dad – he’s most at home on the baseball field.
Back in June of 2012, precisely as his dad was heading out on his final patrol, 3-year-old Lane was suiting up for his first T-ball game. The coach had handed him his uniform, and by absolute chance Lane got Number 4, his dad’s old high school and college number. Jaimie had laughed, thinking how much B.J. was going to love this story. The very next morning the Army’s casualty notification officers knocked on her front door.
Corporal Luxmore may rest in a quiet, country cemetery. But he lives on in the communities that loved him. The scoreboards on the high school baseball field are named for him. An annual baseball tournament honors him. His family gives scholarships in his name to local student athletes, and the high school does a blood drive in his memory each year.
But what I love most of all is that a proud young man with the last name Luxmore is a standout baseball player in the same community where his dad was. He still wears the number 4.
On Memorial Day, I ask something of each of you:
Pause to remember Cpl. Luxmore and the ones you know and love who gave their last full measures of devotion.
Remember our Gold Star Families, whose grief is forever etched into the fabric of our nation … parents and siblings like Brenda and Leonard and Brock, spouses and children like Jaimie and Lane.
And actively remember those – of every generation – who believed this great nation was worth everything they had to give.
I leave you with this thought: It has been said that Soldiers fight not because they hate what is in front of them but because they so deeply love that which they have left behind. May we all recognize that we are part of that – part of “those left behind” – and may we more deeply treasure the gift of freedom, knowing others paid an unthinkable price for it.