Retired Maj. Gordon Lee didn’t put up with any nonsense.
He was old Army and rough around the edges. An officer in Special Forces who served two tours in Vietnam and earned a Purple Heart, the Jacksonville man was someone not to cross.
But he was also a man who never failed to help his family, friends and community when needed.
“He was as gruff as he could be, but inside he was a marshmallow,” said Barbara Berryman, a longtime friend of Lee. “He would do anything in the world for you.”
Lee died last Thursday at RMC Jacksonville. He was 76.
The family will receive friends from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at K.L. Brown Funeral Home in Jacksonville. He will be buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery at a later date.
Lee served 18 years in the Army with the Airborne, Rangers and Special Forces. Besides the Purple Heart, Lee was also awarded two Silver Stars, seven Bronze Stars and several Commendations for Valor.
Lee also served as an adviser to National Guard units in New York for four years.
After retirement, Lee spent 22 years the adult leader for Boy Scout Troop 19 in Jacksonville. He also served on the board of the Angel Volunteer Fire Department.
Lee’s oldest of two sons, Gordon Lee II, said his father spoke of his military service often. Unlike many men, Lee wasn’t drafted but volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War, he said.
“He said that even though it was an unpopular war, there were people over there who were asking for our help and he felt he could make a difference,” Lee said. “He was very proud of his service over there … there was a very low casualty rate under him.”
Lee said his father earned his Purple Heart during his first tour in Vietnam while with Special Forces. Lee said shrapnel from mortar fire hit his father in his back and legs during an engagement.
“He didn’t let them air evac him,” Lee said. “He chose to stay and help call in artillery and coordinate until the battle was secure … so he wouldn’t leave his guys behind.”
Lee said his father, as part of the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, fought in the first officially confirmed battle in Cambodia during the war.
“We still have the first American flag flown in combat during that,” Lee said.
Lee said the family plans to donate the flag to the infantry museum at Fort Benning, Ga., where his father once served, later this year.
Berryman, lead police officer and game warden at Fort McClellan Army National Guard, said she became friends with Lee over the years when he’d come by to hunt.
“What really stuck out to me was his dry sense of humor — but also his teaching ability was phenomenal,” Berryman said. “He taught through experience.”
Berryman said that years ago, Lee taught her how to track a wounded deer using just a bottle of peroxide.
“If you spray peroxide on something that you think might be blood, and it bubbles up, then it’s blood,” Berryman said of what Lee taught her.
Berryman said Lee was a tough military man, but he had a real soft spot, particularly for animals.
“That’s something that was odd for a hunter,” Berryman said. “But he had a house full of cats … he loved animals a lot, he hunted just for population control.”
Lee said his father would always be there to help anyone, but particularly his family.
“I’d still always go to him for advice,” Lee said. “I’m getting to be up to 50 and my dad was still my best friend.”
Lee was preceded in death by his wife, Capt. Marie Ann Lee. He is survived by his sons, Gordon Lee II and Daniel Lee.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests memorials be made to St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church in Jacksonville.
Staff Writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.