Julie Dickson had waffled on whether she would speak at her fiancé's funeral. She was going to, then she wasn't. Back and forth.
She'll never regret her decision.
Dickson spoke with heartbroken love and angst as she shared the last e-mail that she wrote to her fiancé, Cpl. Jordan Robert Stanton, the man memorialized Thursday at San Francisco Solano Catholic Church in Rancho Santa Margarita and laid to rest at Ascension Cemetery in Lake Forest.
Stanton was killed in combat March 4 in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. Only 20, he was an assistant team leader in the U.S. Marines assigned to the 2nd Reconnaissance Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, NC.
The Rancho Santa Margarita resident was eulogized in the same church in which he was baptized. "Jordan chose to give the ultimate gift, his life, for us all," said the Rev. John LaVecke of San Francisco Solano Catholic.
Stanton's recruiter also spoke before the packed pews at the church and said that Stanton died "leading from the front."
"It never gets any easier," Staff Sgt. Thomas Praxedes of Ladera Ranch, who himself will be deployed next week, said of eulogizing the dead. "We are not here to mourn his loss ... but to know that such a brave man walked among us.
"Jordan died for the image of what a Marine should be. Freedom is not free. I think we all understand that now. ... He believed in it, and he died protecting it."
Stanton graduated from Trabuco Hills High in 2008 and joined the Marines that year. He was promoted to corporal July 1, 2010, an uncommonly short period of time, and was made an assistant team leader. He was deployed to Afghanistan in November as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and was to return home in April and marry Dickson on July 17.
Dickson had the most powerful words of the almost two-hour ceremony, saying she wasn't sure whether Stanton read her last e-mail. She chose to read it to those assembled beyond his flag-draped casket before her.
"I'm just trying to get through the day," she read. "Everything doesn't seem real without you here. Love and faith is what keeps me going. I'm always in prayer. I pray for every possible factor, and at the end of the day I pray some more. I have faith in you and faith in us, whether it's one deployment or 100 deployments."
Yet when Dickson spoke from the present, from her heart, she brought the crowd to tears and then to its feet.
"Reading this e-mail makes me thank God for every weekend, for every kiss, for every moment together," she said.
"The love he had for his country became his passion. I'm so angry our wonderful plans for the future will never happen and so angry that war took my best friend.
"Jordan's accomplishments and legacy will stand the test of time. I see Jordan in his brothers' faces. ... I love Jordan and will continue to love Jordan every minute and every second of my life. ... You can be damn sure I'll do everything I can to make him proud and I encourage you to do the same."
About 1,000 mourners then stood and clapped.
- Hundreds show their colors on the roadside.
Stanton's older brother, Ryan, also fought back his emotions as he spoke first, and brought some early levity to a ceremony that had constant sniffles in the background. "If I know my brother," Ryan Stanton said, "he's probably getting a tattoo with angel wings on his back and an energy drink concocted by Jack LaLanne and sprinting around a distant planet."
He recalled that his brother was full of life, that he grew up fastest among the four Stanton boys. "One day he was a baby, the next day he was a man with the heart of a lion."
"When he told people he was joining the Marines, people wondered why he would make that choice, put his life in danger," Ryan Stanton recounted. "I can tell you why. Some people are born to be heroes."
Every branch of the military was represented in the audience, and police officers from as far way in Orange County as La Habra and sheriff's deputies from Los Angeles were in attendance.
Pastor Doug Elliott of Rock Church in Irvine said that Stanton was steadfast, funny and loyal and that his friends would say he was also "beefcake," which elicited a laugh about the muscular young man. In the days since his death, Dickson found a notebook and shared it with Elliott, who also said Stanton "was a planner."
"It was amazing to see a young man who had so many goals, and he made them," Elliott said. "His legacy is living in us all. ... We cannot come to this house and hear the kind of man he was and leave here the same way."
Elliott also spoke directly to the military servicemen who were in attendance. He talked about showing gratitude for their service by shaking their hands and thanking them when he sees them in public.
"I apologize for the recognition you deserve that you will never receive for what you do for our country," he said, his words bringing the audience to its feet.
Grandparents Ed Stanton and Ann Reynolds shared prayers before Bob Stanton—Jordan's father—took the microphone. He was composed, he said, because the first 40 minutes of the funeral had exhausted him of tears. He talked about how his son made friends, oftentimes with those who were different from the norm.
"That was my son—he included people," Bob Stanton said.
He also spoke of his son's colleagues who had to continue their fight knowing Stanton had died, the challenge of conflict while grieving. He praised them and praised those like his son.
"They're the ones we have to think about," Bob Stanton said. "They are working right now for us. ... They do it not for glory, not for the money, not for the adulation. They are fierce, and we should respect them.
"Jordan has died for his country, for you, for his brothers, but he would be disappointed if we didn’t turn to them and say thank you and support them in our heart and in our mind, any way we can, but respect them, because every one of them is Jordan."
Again, the audience rose to its feet.
A few minutes later, many in the audience were graveside, where the family received Stanton's Purple Heart, where Stanton's mother and fiancée received flags, and where Stanton received the final award in his military career.
A 21-gun salute, and taps.