On Friday night Oct. 25, 2013, the community dedicated the equipment room at Lincolnton High School football field house to one of its fallen heroes, US Marine Capt. Jeb Seagle. This is a fitting tribute to Jeb, a Lincolnton High School 1972 graduate who was killed in action in the US skirmish war with Cuba over Grenada, the tiny Caribbean island, exactly 30 years ago on October 25 1983. For his uncommon valor, bravery under fire, and personal disregard for his own safety as he saved the life of his Cobra attack helicopter copilot Capt. Tim Howard (later Col. Tim Howard USMC, – retired) he was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. I believe it was the only Navy Cross awarded between the years of the Vietnam War and the Desert Storm war.
Regardless of that under-fire act, Jeb and countless other servicemen, many of whom have returned and many of whom like Jeb did not, have fought to protect and defend the great United States and to protection the way of life which we all too often take for granted. If and when I have a particularly trying or difficult day, all I have to do is recall the sacrifice Jeb made and I can return to my task with renewed vigor, knowing that I can do so because of the sacrifice of Jeb and the many others.
It has been stated that no greater gift can a man give but that he lay down his life for others. I feel sure that whatever troubles we are facing in life, Jeb and the many others would be happy to be alive and to be able to face the challenges of daily life. I was an emergency room physician in Lincolnton at the time of Jeb’s death. I have subsequently completed training in orthopedic surgery, specializing in joint replacement of the hip and knee and in Orthopaedic oncology (bone and soft tissue cancers). I consider myself incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to practice my art and science, having performed just over 10,000 surgeries since completing my training. None of this would have been possible had it not been for the many servicemen and women who have served in our country’s defense to protect the American way.
Jeb himself was an incredible individual and those of us who were fortunate enough to know and love him consider ourselves blessed for having done so. In high school, he was the equipment manager for the Lincolnton High School football team. He was also a multi-season Little League coach of the youth of the town. He possessed many great characteristics. He was a great guy and a great friend.
Jeb was the product of the extended Seagle family, a somewhat different family structure that existed well before the “Modern Family” show became a household family concept. He was raised primarily by his grandmother that we all called “Mom,” but technically his guardian was his aunt, Dr. Inez Seagle, a Lenoir-Rhyne professor of psychology, sociology and religion, who was also an ordained Lutheran minister. She had multiple PhDs and possessed an incredibly sharp and incisive mind and was a tremendous educational resource on Semester at Sea where she was a hallowed veteran professor. Jeb grew up surrounded by a loving family consisting of his grandmother, his aunts his uncles his cousins his brother Tom and multiple friends. He grew up well loved. With his friends he engaged in many activities. Just a few of the activities I recall included late Saturday-night gatherings at the Seagle house to watch the original versions of Saturday Night Live, to traveling around the world together with Jeb and Aunt Nez on World Campus Afloat, to riding motorcycles through the rice paddies in the mountains of Bali, to riding around Lincolnton in Jeb’s purple 1957 Studebaker coupe, to countless pranks and shenanigans of youthful years (evidenced by the wall framed and mounted “certificate” speeding ticket that Tom and Jeb earned while driving back from the beach in the Crowell’s 1924 Model A Ford), to the usual college life activities around Appalachian State University. Through all of this Jeb was a true friend to his friends, with a quick wit and keen insight that often cut through the window dressing and seized the essence of life. Our lives were enriched by having known and loved him as a friend. He could be counted on in good times and in bad.
Jeb developed a particularly close relationship with my parents, Jane and Jule Ward. Jeb would often come over to my house to visit with me, but if I wasn’t at home, he often visited with my parents for hours and never seemed to mind that I wasn’t even around. After graduating from Appalachian State, Jeb worked with my Mom and Dad in their trophy business for about four years. I’m sure the trophy business ultimately would’ve been his had he not chosen to enlist in the Marines to be a pilot instead. He and my father had a particularly close relationship and in many ways Jeb became my adopted brother. He and my father spent many hours talking about my Dad’s Navy years on an aircraft carrier in World War II. I don’t know if that influenced Jeb’s decision to become a Marine. I just know they had the conversations.
One event that illustrates both his willingness to support you as a friend, and also to illustrate the type of situations we often faced stands out in my memory. It was unusual and yet somehow is yet so typical of the situations we often encountered. Those readers my age and older may recall the Dixie Grocery Wholesale Incorporated that operated out of the downtown Lincolnton warehouse that is now often referred to as the Mauney Building. After the Dixie grocery business closed in the late 1960s, the warehouse was locked up for about a year. All the unsold and damaged food products were stored in the sub-basement. My father purchased the back half of the building at a public auction. He asked Jeb and me if we would clean it up. When we entered the subbasement, we encountered an unholy mess. A pack of rats had gnawed a hole through the wooden door and it been feasting on this food for about six months. They had completely devoured 72 cases of unsold doggie biscuits and countless cases of flour, rice, breakfast cereals, oatmeal and multiple other such sustainables. It was also scattered with broken bottles of every kind of foodstuff imaginable. One can hardly imagine this mess. Jeb and I killed 22 rats that first afternoon with our shotgun and .22 rifle that were loaded with rat shot. We then set about shoveling out this disgusting mess into boxes, bags and other conveyances. This was in the day before there were U-Haul rentals and Ryder truck rentals around every corner. You simply borrowed a truck from somebody if you needed one. My dad borrowed a truck from Jim Warren of Joe and Jim’s supermarket. This is the same Jim Warren that the Civic Center is named after as Jim went on to become a major community leader including I believe stints as Chairman of the County Commissioners, Chairman of the board of directors of the hospital and multiple other services. At that time, however, he was a grocer and the proud co-owner of Joe and Jim’s Supermarket. We borrowed their truck and used it to convey this wretched collection of foodstuff refuse, complete with dead rats and rat dung, to the local landfill (such as it was in about 1970). Back then, the welfare services were not as complete and there were people who commonly “shopped” and picked through the refuse at the landfill. After we backed up the big Joe and Jim supermarket truck to the edge of the abyss and started shoveling this nefarious collection of waste and debris into the landfill, a drunk staggered over to the side of the truck and watched us for a few minutes. He then took a long look at Jeb and me and said, “Well I’ll tell you fellers one thing… I ain’t never shopping at Joe and Jim’s again.” Our lame explanation was lost on him because we just couldn’t stop laughing at the ridiculousness of the whole situation. I’m pleased to know that Jim did so well and became a community leader despite the low estimation of the supermarket in the eyes of at least one Lincoln County drunk. Outside of a few close friends, this is the first time I’ve told the story publicly in over 40 years. But Jeb and I had many laughs over this story. This is but a sample of the situations that any friend of Jeb would have encountered while with Jeb.
I can’t really believe it’s been 30 years. My how fast it goes. I still remember Jeb like it was yesterday. It is fitting that we honor him and his heroic actions by naming the equipment room at the Lincolnton High School football field house after Jeb. It is fitting that we toast his memory. It is fitting that his actions serve as a reminder of what is great in America and in its people. And it’s fitting that we remind ourselves what is important in life and that’s our friends, our family and our fellow man. I think of Jeb often and for sure I think of him every Oct. 25. Thirty years later I still have difficulty talking about his sacrifice without getting emotional. He was a great one and I still miss him.
Dr. Bill Ward is a guest columnist with the Lincoln Times-News.