MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. - On a sunny day in Rocky Mount, N.C., June 1, family and friends gather at a local church to witness a few men and women graduate from the Christian Home School Association of Rocky Mount.
Everyone wore their best attire for the graduates, but there was one person that stood out the most.
Standing tall in his nicely pressed black service coat, his ribbons and achievements shown, Maj. LeRon E. Lane, the Assistant Chief of Staff G-6 with 2nd Marine Logistics Group, looks down the aisle and waits for his dear friend to receive his high school diploma as he conquers another milestone in his life.
“When [Lane] showed up in his dress blues my heart was pounding,” said Steven C. James. “I was nervous about the graduation but when I saw him, I wasn’t even worried about graduating anymore. My mind was just on him being there for me and that was really special to me.”
As the doors opened, the crowd stood to lay eyes on the graduating class. Music filled the room as the nine graduates walked to the stage.
James, one of the few who graduated, smiled deeply which delighted not only his parents, Larry and Michelle but a decorated Marine in his dress blues.
“I’m so happy to see that look when he smiled at me -- I can tell it meant so much,” said Lane, a Cherry Point, N.C., native. “I wanted him to see and feel from my eyes and my smile that it meant a lot to me. Everything he said I was giving to him he gave right back to me.”
“It means the world to me to see him here and I would have given anything for him to be here,” said Steven, a Nashville, N.C., native. “This is the first time I have seen [Lane] in his dress blues. My mom asked me if I was ready to graduate today and all I told her was, ‘I’m ready to see Maj. Lane in his dress blues.’”
After the services were completed, the nine students stood in front of the packed church and moved their tassels from the right to the left, making them graduates.
Most of graduates walked to their parents and hugged their loved ones at first. Not Steven, he walked to Lane, stood proud and gave him a salute.
“[Steven] walked to the side and could have hugged anybody,” said Lane. “To see the smile on his face as he turned around and gave me a salute; now I have saluted a lot of people but when I returned that salute to that young man, it touched me. As a father I know what it meant to see him that happy from his parents.”
After completion of the graduation, food and beverages were served to the new graduates and their loved ones.
Tables were set up with photos of each graduates’ childhood, with small gifts placed about. Without knowing, there was something very special waiting for Steven.
“We gave him a flag flown over the 2nd MLG headquarters building, tokens from senior officers, challenge coins, hand written letters and a flag I flew in Afghanistan in representation of him,” said Lane.
Steven smiled with total joy as he received all of the gifts and tokens from various Marines and sailors within the 2nd MLG.
His friends and family gathered around as he read a handwritten letter from a sergeant within the unit. While he read the letter his parents stood proud behind him, tears of joy dripped from their face watching their son shine in his day of glory.
“Sometimes our domestic enemy is fear,” said Lane. “I was able to overcome his fears and give him hope with these moments. The unspoken word, bond and emotion between brothers is all he ever wanted from the Marine Corps. That time for me was a hot, sweaty Saturday to put my dress blues on and for him to know he was a part of something.”
The build up to this day all started at a truck rental store in June 2011.
Lane walked in wearing a Marine Corps jersey trying to rent a moving truck to transfer his belongings here.
A young 16-year-old Steven walked in from cutting grass and looked over at Lane.
“He looked at me looked like he just saw a ghost,” said Lane. “I initially thought I did something wrong when he asked if I was a Marine. I asked him if there is something wrong and he lifted up his shirt and showed me his scar he received from many heart surgeries. He said ‘I would be a Marine if it wasn’t for this’, [Steven’s] eyes filled up with tears and he said ‘wow, a real life Marine right in front of me’.”
Steven has been through five heart surgeries. His first one was the third day after he was born and his most recent was February.
“It’s a humbling experience,” said Lane. “This kid has overcome life-threatening surgeries. When you see that much love for country and for the Corps, I decided I’m going to give part of my life to him because here I am blessed with a gift [Steven] will never have.”
A couple of months passed while Lane settled in to his new duty station, after which he reached out to Steven.
“[Lane] called the store where my mom works and told her to come to Camp Lejeune because I was going to be a Marine for a day,” said Steven.
In the early morning on his day of being a Marine, Steven woke up his mother to tell her that the day had come and they must get ready.
“I woke up five minutes before my alarm went off,” Steven said with a big smile on his face. “I was so excited.”
Steven and Michelle ventured to the base as Marines and sailors with 2nd MLG prepared a full day worth of activities.
“You would think that his family won the lottery,” said Lane. “They were humbled to be here for a day. The Marines and sailors from 2nd MLG really embraced and went all out for him.”
Steven sat in a tank, held weapons, sat in the base commanding general’s chair, toured Marine Corps facilities and finally conducted a Combat Fitness Test as a Marine.
“Carrying the ammunition cans and running around the obstacles was really hard,” said Steven jokingly.
Marines and sailors gathered and cheered on Steven as he fought his way through the CFT.
During one portion of the CFT, Steven had to run 880 yards. In this portion of the test, he started to slow down and fatigue set in.
Lane ran up to Steven when seeing him in distress and asked him if he wanted to stop. Steven quickly replied, “I couldn’t do that to you all, not after everything you all did for me.”
“When he ran the CFT [Steven] said he will finish the CFT even if it killed him. He would have rather of lived his life proving to Marines that he can do it,” said Lane.
After Steven completed the long run, Marines and sailors roared with motivation and ran to congratulate him.
“He has the heart and determination of a lion,” said Lane. “There were a lot of emotional moments; we knew that day meant something.”
“I thought it was so cool to go through the obstacle courses,” said Steven. “It made me feel like a brother to everyone, and it made me feel like a Marine.”
Having this experience with Marines and sailors gave him total joy and Steven says that he will never forget the day 2nd MLG made him a Marine.
“Marines are not rude, they just don’t bump into you like civilians do on the street,” said Steven. ”They asked me how my day was, or called me sir, it made me feel great. What I like most about the Marines is that they revolve around teamwork, and that is what gets my attention the most.”
Steven plans to use the Marine Corps’ traits shown to him and apply them to his future as he challenges the world now that another highlight in his life is complete.