Fallen soldier, friend will be missed

November, 11, 2009

I was going to craft a funny blog about what Jimmie Johnson should be nicknamed when he wins a fourth straight Sprint Cup championship. Then I remembered it was Veterans Day. Then I remembered Marine Lance Cpl. Christopher S. Fowlkes.

Chris was 18 when I last saw him two and a half years ago. He was preparing to leave for boot camp in Parris Island, S.C. He couldn't have been happier.

Chris died on Sept. 10 from wounds suffered in an explosion while serving his country in Afghanistan.

He was only 20.

As my 16-year-old son so poignantly reminded me of his cousin, "One day I was playing volleyball with him in the backyard. The next I was going to his funeral.''

So I will forego funny for today and leave you with an Associated Press story I stumbled onto. It was among hundreds that came up about fallen veterans. It sums up why Jimmie Johnson's new nickname will have to wait until a future blog.

It sums up why Chris should be remembered on this Veterans Day ...

Christopher Fowlkes had just returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, but it wasn't too much to drive six hours so he could send off his buddy to Marine boot camp.

"His heart was just huge," said friend Cameron Snuggs. "He was my brother."

Snuggs said Fowlkes always wore his uniform with pride -- whether it was a Little League jersey, his Gaffney Indians high school uniform, Marine dress blues or camouflage.

"No one wore that Gaffney High School uniform like Chris did," Snuggs said.

Fowlkes, 20, of Gaffney, S.C., died Sept. 10 at a U.S. military hospital in Germany. He had been seriously wounded a week earlier in Helmand province, Afghanistan, when an improvised explosive detonated. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C.

The Rev. David Kite eulogized Fowlkes at his funeral.

"He gave laughter in situations that were really difficult to find humor," Kite said.

"He gave friendship to those who needed a friend."

Jessica LeMaster, who attended high school with Fowlkes, said it was clear in high school that he wanted to be a Marine. The two shared a love for University of Tennessee sports -- and LeMaster said she had borrowed a pair of basketball shorts from him some time ago.

Now, she'll keep them as something by which to remember him.

David Newton | email

ESPN Staff Writer



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