Colorado Event Honors Iraq War Hero

The Two-Mile High Veterans Weekend event in Leadville, Colo., will pay special tribute to Leadville native Lance Cpl. Nick Palmer, who was killed in Fallujah in 2004. Host Scott Simon speaks with former State Department adviser and event co-organizer Kael Weston, as well as Nick Palmer's father, Brad Palmer.

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This weekend in Leadville, Colorado, veterans are gathering to honor those who served in wars from Korea and Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Two-Mile High Veterans Weekend will pay special tribute to a local hero, Lance Corporal Nicholas Palmer, who was killed in Fallujah in 2004. He was 19 years old.

Former State Department advisor, Kael Weston, organized the weekend along with Major General Larry Nicholson. Kael Weston joins us now from Leadville. Thanks very much for being with us.

KAEL WESTON: It's a pleasure.

SIMON: You were, I gather, Major General Nicholson's advisor in Iraq when he was wounded at Camp Fallujah in 2004. What do you want people to know about him and about the U.S. mission there?

WESTON: Well, he'll never tell his own story because, even as a general, he's probably the most humble marine I know, but yeah, the rocket flew over my head, landed in his office, killed a major, Major Shea, I believe out of Seattle, and badly wounded him, so we have ties that go all the way back and then he returned as a commander in 2006 and 2007 and that was the year that Nick was killed.

SIMON: What do you want people to know about him?

WESTON: Well, I think both stories are worth getting out there and the purpose of the event here is to kind of acknowledge that these are not wars that there are going to be large parades that maybe wars in the past have had, but for all of us who survived and in honor of those who didn't, we wanted to just gather as a small group and remember, reflect and unfortunately there's more talking Washington while all this is going on about Syria, but we'll try and stay focused on some of the good stories and not some of the bad ones.

SIMON: I understand that Nick Palmer's father, Brad Palmer, is there with you.

WESTON: He is. We're at the kitchen table in the Palmer house.

SIMON: Well then, thanks for including us. Can we talk to Mr. Palmer?

WESTON: Absolutely. Let me hand the phone over.

BRAD PALMER: Hello.

SIMON: Hi there Mr. Palmer. It's Scott Simon here.

PALMER: How are you doing?

SIMON: Fine thank you sir. Very good to talk to you. Thank you very much.

PALMER: I appreciate the opportunity.

SIMON: Tell us about your son, Nick.

PALMER: If I can get through a lot of it. Nick was a very vibrant, very witty, loved the outdoors, liked to hunt, four-wheel, and, of course, shooting guns. That's probably what put him in the Marine Corp. But he lettered four years in football for the Lake County Panthers. He was a defensive tackle and, of course, my background played football for the School of Mines in Butte, Montana. I was the line coach, so I got a chance to coach him four years.

SIMON: Did Nick tell you why he wanted to go into the Armed Services?

PALMER: Felt he could make a difference. You know, he was killed December 16, 2006. I don't know. Everybody says it should get easier, but it don't.

SIMON: Yeah. I gather you're going to lead a tribute to Leadville veterans at a memorial there in town that you helped build.

PALMER: Yeah, that was, you know, I used to be an Exalted Ruler from the Elk's Lodge up here in Leadville, and we would do every Memorial Day, we would put a wreath up for the VFW Memorial that was there. And I just remember going out and, you know, gofer holes and anthills and we'd put our flags in the metal post and wind would come out and blow it over, you had the ants biting your leg, and it was just pathetic.

And then after Nick was killed, there was a marine, Doug Cecil up here in Leadville that served in Desert Storm and he said we need to make a change and it was prompted by Nick being killed. So we went from the ground up. Donations from sod(ph), from Fort Collins, Colorado, and the bricklayers putting all the stone on the walls - helmet, rifle and boots. And at the bottom of that we put his name, in memory of Lance Corporal Nicholas Palmer, and all those that sacrificed their life for our freedom.

SIMON: He was 19, but he leaves a lot of memories and a lot of people in Leadville will grow up hearing of him and be grateful for him.

PALMER: Oh yeah. Especially his nephew. My oldest son named his son Nicholas James, so I always told him he's got some big shoes to fill.

SIMON: Mr. Palmer, thank you for your service too, and for giving this country a son like Nick. Thank you.

PALMER: I appreciate that. I enjoy talking about him, so - sometimes it's tough to get through.

SIMON: Brad Palmer will participate in a tribute to his son Nick in the Two-Mile High Veterans Weekend now taking place in Leadville, Colorado.

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