Soldier from Wisconsin Sought Role of Protector Army PFC Jason Lemke died in Iraq in January when his vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb. His family says the 30-year-old Wisconsin native tried to be protective of everyone — even people he didn't know.
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Soldier from Wisconsin Sought Role of Protector

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Soldier from Wisconsin Sought Role of Protector

Soldier from Wisconsin Sought Role of Protector

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RENEE MONTAGNE, Host:

And this morning we have news of more violence in another conflict - Iraq. At least 65 people were killed today in a pair of suicide bombings in Baghdad. The attacks took place in pet markets - two separate markets selling birds and other animals. At least one and perhaps both attacks were carried out by female suicide bombers.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Milwaukee Public Radio's LaToya Dennis has this remembrance.

LATOYA DENNIS: At the Lemke family home in Milwaukee, a gold star banner hangs in the front window. That's the symbol that a family member has died at war. Near the front door, there's a brown paper bag filled with Christmas gifts for Colleen and Greg Lemke's grandkids. Their father, Jason Lemke, was supposed to be home this month on leave to watch his kids open the gifts. His father Greg says the last time he spoke to his son he was thinking about ordering some new parts for his custom motorcycle.

GREG LEMKE: Actually, he was planning on buying part of the motorcycle stuff before he got back, and I explained to him that I thought it'd be a bad idea, that he should just use all his time and energy to make sure he got back.

DENNIS: Jason Lemke wanted to enlist in the Army right after high school, but his parents talked him out of it. Instead, he worked odd jobs, got married and raised two girls who are now seven and nine. Years later, he divorced, joined the Army and after basic training he was sent to Fort Lewis, Washington, where he learned to speak Arabic. Lemke's mother, Colleen, says she wasn't surprised when she found out her son was one of the few picked to learn the language.

COLLEEN LEMKE: He was very intelligent, so they thought that was a better position for him at the time. He was going to be a translator.

DENNIS: Jason Lemke was deployed to Iraq in April of 2007 as part of the troop surge. Greg Lemke says neither he nor his wife knew much about the area their son was stationed once he left Baghdad because he didn't tell them the truth.

LEMKE: He wasn't exactly a liar as a child; he was more truthful. But he told us it was - eh, it's actually better here. Now looking at the news clippings and that - that's actually the worst province in the country right now.

DENNIS: Lemke's parents say their son was only trying to protect them and keep them from worrying. They say that's how he was with everyone. Jason Lemke's friends say they remember him also as a constant jokester. Jenny Wojack knew him in high school and they kept in touch over the years.

JENNY WOJACK: He had his times of seriousness, of course, but he would do anything to make anyone smile. In high school he used to, like, make monkey faces and hop down the hallways at school and do the splits. Or whatever he could do to make you laugh, he would do.

DENNIS: Dennis Fleischfresser is the father of one of Lemke's best friends.

DENNIS FLEISHFRESSER: As soon as you met him, he treated you like you were his best friend. Obviously I'm not in his age group. I'm in his dad's age group, but we got along like buddies, you know? It wasn't like a father/son thing, or you know, I'm an old person you're a young person. He was a very easy person to talk to and to like.

DENNIS: For NPR News, I'm LaToya Dennis in Milwaukee.

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