Lt. Josh Deese: Army Man, Lumbee Tribesman

Army 1st Lt. Josh Deese, killed in combat in Iraq, was a member of the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina. He was 25 at the time of his death, and had prepared for a military career for many years, following the lead of a beloved uncle.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

The bodies of U.S. military personnel killed during this deadly month in Iraq are now beginning to come home. Early this week, First Lieutenant Josh Deese was laid to rest in Robeson County, North Carolina. The 25-year-old Army officer was killed in combat in Kirkuk. From North Carolina Public Radio, David Brower reports.

DAVID BROWER: Josh Deese loved his Uncle Dex. Dexter Clark is a career military man.

Mr. DEXTER CLARK (Uncle): He seen me as this uncle who was a soldier, and I think he seen some of the things that I did and, you know, some of the glamour-type things that - you know, I was in the 82nd Airborne Division, I jumped out of airplanes and he thought that was something that he would like to do. He thought it would be fun.

BROWER: But when Josh Deese showed up for the first day of junior ROTC class at South Robeson High School, his instructor, Brent McMann(ph), says he appeared out of place. Deese looked up at the retired major and told him he wanted to join the Army and be like his Uncle Dex, who also worked in the classroom. McMann says he smiled and thought to himself, this kid looks more like a lost schoolboy than a future soldier.

Mr. BRENT MCMANN (ROTC Instructor): I didn't think he was going to get much bigger, but he really did. He doubled in size basically here in high school. And I just thought he was just going to be a tiny little fellow.

BROWER: Deese went on to UNC Pembroke on an Army scholarship. He kept working, daily calisthenics, the weight room, and every day he and the other cadets would get together for early morning runs. Michael Brewington(ph) was Deese's roommate at the time. The two were both members of a Native American fraternity. Deese belonged to the Lumbee tribe. Brewington says he wasn't always crazy about the early morning wake-up calls.

Mr. MICHAEL BREWINGTON (Roommate): I'm like, Josh, cut your light off, man, cut your light off, you know. And sometimes I'd go running with him, but he was always dedicated.

BROWER: Brewington says all that hard work paid off. By the time Deese graduated from UNC Pembroke in 2003, Brewington says his roommate looked good.

Mr. BREWINGTON: Josh was a pretty boy, always had his hair cut, and he was always dressed well. Now you're talking about dressed, the man could dress.

BROWER: Just before Deese deployed to Iraq, he stopped in on his Uncle Dexter for a visit. Clark says they ended up spending a couple hours together.

Mr. CLARK: We went out to my shop and lifted weights a little bit, talked about motorcycles, that kind of thing.

BROWER: According to the Pentagon, First Lieutenant Josh Deese and another soldier were killed by a roadside bomb while on a combat mission. The Deese family has been comforted by the Lumbee tribe. Harold Hunt is in charge of veterans affairs for the tribe. He says there's already been a formal ceremony to recognize the Deese family for their son's service.

Mr. HAROLD HUNT (Veterans Affairs): They are honored in that community. As in most Indian nations, they are honored because those are the tribe's warriors.

BROWER: The Deese family's connection to the Iraq war does not end with this death. Josh Deese's brother-in-law, Eric, is also in the Army. The family says he's scheduled to deploy to Iraq next month. For National Public Radio, I'm David Brower in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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