October 21, 2014

Elyria
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Members of 82nd Airborne remember fallen comrade

ELYRIA — Not a word was spoken Friday afternoon as 15 men from the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne stood in front of Sgt. Norman Lane Tollett’s grave.

“It was one of the saddest things I’ve seen in my life,” said Lane’s uncle, Phil Tollett. “It’s hard to see them grieve for Lane. It’s devastating for them.”

STEVE MANHEIM/CHRONICLE
Zach Frisby, front, of St. Louis, and Mark Merryman, of Cincinnati, look at a painting of Army Sgt. Norman Lane Tollett outside City Council Chambers.

The brothers-in-arms, who returned home last month from Iraq, traveled from across  America to pay respects to Lane, an Elyria native who was killed last April 28 by an improvised explosive device while patrolling in Baghdad.

“Lane was very close to all of us. Everybody was happy when he was around. You couldn’t help but love him and that’s we’re here today to honor him,” said Sgt. Jeff Solomon, 24, of Bardwell, Ky.

The soldiers also visited Elyria Catholic High School to see the scoreboard erected there in Lane’s honor and St. Jude’s School where peace poles and a granite memoriam bear his name.

They also stopped at Elyria City Hall, where a painting memorializing Lane’s funeral hangs on the second floor. The picture by Patrick Funke shows Lane’s spirit watching as his mother is handed his Purple Heart and Medal of Honor.

“It’s pretty intense,” said Sgt. Clint Greer, 24, of Denver, his eyes welling but never leaving the canvas. “Children aren’t ever supposed to die before their parents. I think this is the most traumatic thing that could happen to a family.”

Greer served with Lane in Iraq, carrying radios into combat and high-risk patrol zones. He said Lane was a man who stuck out in a crowd.

As of Friday, 4,032 U.S. soldiers had been killed in Iraq. Greer said each sacrifice is remembered, but Lane’s has a special place in many soldiers’ minds because his positive attitude was infectious.

“It defies reason that this could happen to such a great guy,” he said. “But if you step back and look at it, it makes sense. People are over there fighting for the things they believe are right, and dying for those beliefs. I know Lane died for what he believed in.”

In the midst of the huddled soldiers, 25-year-old Leslie Graham’s gaze was locked on the painting.

Graham still calls herself Lane’s girlfriend and said they were going to be engaged when he was to be discharged last August. She said she knows Lane would want her to be happy, but she can’t move on.

Seeing the portrait in person for the first time Friday with the 82nd Airborne eased her soul a little bit, though, Graham said.

“Seeing them was like seeing him again,” she said. “I didn’t know if I would be able to handle it at first. I didn’t want to hold a grudge against them because they got to come home and Lane didn’t.”

Contact Jason Hawk at 329-7148 or jhawk@chroniclet.com.