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A hero who aspired to kindness
BOUNTIFUL - Lex Nelson lay at rest, white-gloved hands folded peacefully atop a neatly pressed uniform. At the foot of his flag-draped casket, Maxine Hepworth-Taylor greeted friends, neighbors and well-wishers and spoke quietly of the boy she always called "my Lexington."
That wasn't, in fact, her nephew's name. But the name "Lex" - so lofty, so valorous - had never seemed a good fit. The young man she knew was simple, gentle and kind, soft-spoken and even timid.
And yet there he lay, now called a hero.
Memorialized on Monday morning in a funeral at his family's church - his name and address in Iraq remains on a hallway bulletin board featuring members serving overseas - Nelson was remembered as one who aspired not to greatness but to kindness, and in the end claimed both.
He was, sister Ingrid Nelson said, "a man that has impacted many lives by living a truly exemplary life."
His death came not gallantly - the Army says the 21-year-old soldier died in a fall from a guard tower at Forward Operating Base Remagen, near Tikrit, on Dec. 12. And Nelson himself often had noted how utterly unremarkable were his duties in the towers.
And yet, though often dull, there are few duties in Iraq more important for fellow service members than those performed by soldiers standing watch in the towers. Nelson died - friends, family and fellow soldiers noted - in the act of defending his comrades.
But he wouldn't have liked the fuss made Monday. Being the 13th of 15 children - in a family that only grew larger after his father remarried, after his mother's death, a decade ago - he was not accustomed to the spotlight, nor did he seek it.
Even as he matured and as his choice in career became an easy topic of conversation, he preferred asking to answering questions, and seldom let an opportunity go in which he might offer praise to someone else.
"It was easy for him to give a sincere compliment," said stepsister Laura Arias.
And yet it was clear, Arias said, that Nelson had become far more worthy of receiving praise. On a visit home from Iraq, to attend his stepmother's funeral last summer, the change was striking, she said.
"When he came home for the funeral, he had changed into a man," she said.
He had become a hero without even trying, Arias said.
Hours after the funeral, long after the casket was taken away and the mourners had departed, Kent Hall remained at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward where it had been held. Standing in an entry way, overlooking a snow-covered picnic area lined with American flags, he reflected upon how average individuals, with no penchant for heroics, end up heroes.
"People say they do not understand what they fight for," said Hall, a distant cousin of Nelson's. "But in the end I believe they do. They fight for each other."
And, Hall said, for their families, friends, and for freedom.