The Canadian hemlock trees are among the most beautiful trees in Wabash’s Fuller Arboretum and they are my favorites. I’m struck by their soft green color and the way their limbs gracefully sway in the breeze all year long. When I walk through the Arboretum, I look up at them as if they are the old wise men of Wabash, their branches reaching out to calm anxious Wabash students.
I was explaining what ice storms are to my daughter, Samantha, last week. As we drove by the Arboretum, I noticed the hemlocks were particularly at risk from the freezing rain. Those light, airy
branches seemed weighted and heavy. No longer were they swaying; instead they lunged toward the ground as if the weight of the world was on those wise shoulders.
Samantha said she thought it looked like the hemlocks were made of glass. I told her that I thought the hemlocks were weeping and that every tiny ice crystal was a frozen tear shed for Jeremy Wright, Wabash’s brave Green Beret who was killed in Afghanistan one week ago.
Jeremy loved the Arboretum and probably ran under those hemlock limbs a thousand times or more. He loved running anywhere in nature and despised oval running tracks. To him, tracks meant that you always ended up in the same place. Jeremy didn’t like running in circles; he wanted to go places.
Wabash’s most decorated distance runner was also a brilliant student. After graduating from Wabash he moved out west to run in the mountains and do a master’s degree. His love of the outdoors -- and pushing his body to the extreme limits -- was evident wherever Jeremy lived.
Since his death last week, I’ve heard from literally hundreds of people whose lives he touched in different ways. What I really learned was that he was a revered world-class athlete, a mountain runner with few peers. The Vail, Colorado newspaper run back-to-back, front-page stories on Wright, who was known as competitive, but respectful; a champion without an ego.
I’ve learned that Jeremy would compete in about any race if it took him outdoors. Not only did he compete internationally as a sponsored racer for the U.S. Mountain Racing Team, but he also had few challengers in snowshoe racing. Roger Busch, one of his best friends and a former Wabash teammate, told me that if there was an Olympic Snowshoe Racing Team, Jeremy would easily have been its leader.
He was our Pat Tillman. Like the former NFL player who died pursuing freedom in the Middle East, Wright joined the Army shortly after the 9/11 attacks. And like Tillman, Wright entered the Special Forces not as an officer, but as an enlisted man. The military’s recruiting initiative was to get the best and brightest men to serve as Rangers and Green Berets. Wright was the latter; a chemistry major and distance runner turned highly trained soldier.
A month after he got to Afghanistan, in November, he got approval to run in the mountains outside of Kabul. Jeremy was not the type of man who could do a day’s work and sit in the barracks watching TV. The mountains called him and he went to them.
No human sacrifice seems to make sense in this war on terror. But this was the first time it really hit home for me, my family, and many of our friends. As a co-worker said to me Thursday, "When you hear the names on TV, it’s one thing; when it’s someone you know, it causes you to think about the whole issue differently."
Jeremy was about the best person Wabash can turn out. Bright, confident, and unassuming, he was an All-American in every sense of the term. And now he is gone, leaving a very real, tangible void in
The steady rain of early last week, the dark heavy clouds, and the tears of ice that formed on the trees of the Fuller Arboretum were, I think, symbolic of the loss so many of us felt when we heard that Jeremy Wright was killed by a roadside bomb half a world away. Even the warming temperatures that thawed those frozen tears gives little solace.
Like the 1,300 families and communities who have mourned fallen soldiers, we now begin the long, painful process of remembering Jeremy and imagining our lives without him.
Jim Amidon is director of public affairs and marketing and secretary at Wabash College. His column appears every Monday in the Journal Review .