On the day after his father’s death in Afghanistan, little Eric Lawson Jr. insisted he saw his dad smiling at him from a space between the trees in front of their home.
The child saw his dad, Staff Sgt. Eric Lawson, again the next day while the family waited for the soldier’s remains to arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
“I ran to see you,” Eric Jr. (EJ) wrote in a letter to his dad that was read at the soldier’s funeral Monday. “I will always remember what you said to me when I saw you there in the trees.”
Like his son, Lawson’s family felt the presence of the fallen soldier as they remembered him at a funeral service in Auburn and buried him at Tahoma National Cemetery in Kent. He was killed with another soldier July 27 on a mission in Ghazni province.
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“I can feel him,” Lawson’s brother-in-law, Robert McGruder Jr. said as he stood in front of Lawson’s flag-draped casket. “My sister can feel him. My mother can feel him; 1st Sergeant (Darwin Marcus) can feel him. Everyone can feel Eric. He’s still here.”
Lawson, 30, grew up in Georgia and Alabama, and he died while assigned to a Virginia-based Army transportation company. But he put down roots in the Northwest years ago. His widow’s family lives in Tacoma.
His death is a reminder that Afghanistan still casts a shadow on the South Sound, even as American forces draw down and most troops from Joint Base Lewis-McChord have returned home. The last local casualty from Afghanistan came May 1, when Staff Sgt. Michael Simpson of Lewis-McChord’s 1st Special Forces Group was killed by a land mine.
Lawson’s family members and friends called him a good soldier who motivated others to push themselves. They remembered him as a man who loved to cook and as a father who always put family first.
He had been assigned to the 21st Cargo Transportation Company at Fort Lewis from 2002 to 2004.
That’s when he met his wife, Rashanna. She’s moving back to Western Washington with their son and her daughter, LeShanna.
Rashanna tearfully read EJ’s letter about seeing his dad after sharing her own memories of her husband. She used to like to watch him in the kitchen. She appreciated his sunny attitude and the ways they made each other better people.
“Eric always was saying all day, every day, ‘As long as you’re happy, I’m happy,’” she said.
Marcus said Lawson was on a convoy security mission when enemy fighters attacked their unit with small arms fire and a roadside bomb.
Lawson enlisted in the Army in the summer of 2001. He served on four combat deployments, three in Afghanistan and one in Iraq.
“He was always in the front, always leading,” Marcus said.
Randy Bragg, 29, of Olympia remembered Lawson as a jokester when they served together at Fort Lewis. They clowned around so much they had to be separated into different platoons, he said.
Lawson “was the best of friends,” he said.
Rashana’s brother and mother described Lawson as a rock for their family.
The family’s casualty assistance officer held EJ at the front of the funeral home while Rashana read the boy’s letter. “Love you daddy,” he said as his mom finished.
Adam Ashton: 253-597-8646 adam.ashton@ thenewstribune.com