written by Jesse's sister Heather and his brother Matthew, with input from his Mom (Vicki), Dad (Nate), and uncle (Russ)
Jesse Warner Strong lived an amazing life in just 24 years. Jesse's life was so vibrant and touched so many people, it makes it difficult to sum up the impact he had on the world around him. In fact, Jesse's life was so full and rich that we cannot possibly cover it all here or in the slideshow that we will see later. Jesse's life is best embodied by this Bible verse, "I thank God upon every remembrance of you." He left us with such a storehouse of joyful memories that they will last us a lifetime. That was his greatest gift to us. As we share a few thoughts from his family, we hope it will remind you of memories of your own, and help you share in the joy that Jesse left with us.
Even as an infant, Jesse was always smiling. As a baby, no one could make him smile and laugh as easily as his older brother, Matthew. This bond of laughter would continue throughout his life and whether they were sitting next to each other in church, working together for the summer, or any time they were in each other's company, whatever Matthew did would always make Jesse laugh. The same was true for his father, Nate. While Vicki and Heather would roll their eyes at Nate's antics, Jesse would always burst out laughing. When Jesse left his job at Ray's Market to start his education at Liberty University, his co-workers awarded him with a plaque bearing the title, "Happiest Man Alive" in honor of his constant smile and laughter.
But Jesse didn't even need people around him to make him laugh. He was able to amuse himself regardless of where he was. When walking through the grocery store one of his favorite things to do was to pretend to run into poles, or to run into signs on the sidewalk just because he thought the shocked expressions on people's faces were hilarious. As he was walking off the platform at his college graduation he pretended to trip and stumble, knocking his cap sideways on his head. Jesse was extremely proud of himself for this and the memory of it never failed to make him laugh.
During his time in Vermont, Jesse was very active in the local community. He helped with a weekly after-school club at the Albany Elementary school, and mentored a young boy there for a year. Every year he helped with Vacation Bible School and always praised the children warmly for their little accomplishments throughout the day. He especially loved to call the small boys "big guy", and their little chests would swell with pride. For Jesse, ministry was a way of life. Whether he was playing whiffle ball with the kids after church, or helping them climb trees on the church property, he continually invested in the lives of those around him.
The way he treated others naturally built them up. Jesse became extremely close with one family in particular, acting as a big brother and friend to the three children. Even while Jesse spent the majority of the year at college, when he was home he always made a point to stop by their house just to spend time with them and play with them. He was so proud as he watched them get older and often commented, "They're so much cooler than I was at their age!"
Jesse had a multitude of interests and pursued each one with enthusiasm and focus. Besides his amazing carving talents, baseball and wiffleball took up the majority of his free time as a child and teen. In fact, Jesse couldn't sit still during his studies for more than half an hour before taking a break to go swing his bat for a while. Jesse had natural talent for the game and with his intense passion to do his best and great teamwork attitude he was called the "secret weapon" on his Pee-Wee team. He loved all the guys he played with on the Craftsbury teams he was a part of. He really enjoyed playing for UCA and his greatest moment was being able to play on Centennial Field for the state championship, but even more amazing was the graciousness with which he handled the loss.
During his high school years he also excelled at bowhunting and bowling. He went so far as to tape professional bowling on TV so he could study professional level technique in order to improve his own game (he bowled a high game of 265 and was the highest scoring bowler in his league at Liberty University). Later he turned his attention to golf and studied Tiger Woods in the same way, always practicing and improving. He transferred his habit of having his wiffle bat with him at all times to his golf club, even taking it with him on Heather's college tours and family trips. In the winter he would hit golf balls into the field behind the house, then run out to find them in the snow. And it was this same perfectionism that earned him a marksmanship score of 241 out of a possible 250 at boot camp. The course record at Parris Island, South Carolina (out of all the recruits that have passed through it's gates) is 245.
He was competitive, but was extremely competitive with himself. He always felt that he could do something better or could improve one of his skills. To accomplish this, he made a practice of doing things the hard way. When he went to Liberty as a freshman, he insisted that he fly there by himself rather than having his family drive him down. He was eager to become a man and saw the trip alone as a step towards achieving that. Jesse soaked up the academics at college, where he turned his perfectionism from sports to classes. He became an extremely dedicated student, but by junior year he had loosened up and made plenty of time to goof off with the guys in dorm 9.
As one of the Spiritual Life Directors on the hall, he invested in the young men around him, leading Bible Studies and prayer groups, staying up late to cut their hair, or hanging out in their rooms. Jesse was a friend to everyone. No one was beneath his notice. The next year he became a Resident Assistant with his co-SLD, Nate. The two of them had a lasting impact on every young man on their hall. Yet again, Jesse never stopped befriending those who needed a friend most, and we have received letters and cards from parents who's son's lives will be forever altered because of his friendship, spiritual guidance and example of good fashion.
His desire to grow as a person and as a man is also why he joined the Marines. He felt it a duty to serve his country and he wanted nothing less than the toughest challenge, knowing the Marines' reputation for having the hardest boot camp, except for Special Forces. His family worried that the Marines would take away his carefree humor and goofiness, but that couldn't have been farther from the truth. It took a half hour of a patient photographer's time to get the picture of Jesse with a straight face, which has now filled our TV screens and newspaper pages. And his Drill Instructors only gave Jesse more people to imitate when he got home.
Yet he and his family were incredibly proud of his service in the Marine Corps, and this was not an association that he took lightly. He loved their combination of principles and precision. When 9/11 happened just months after his graduation from bootcamp he told his concerned mother, "Mom, I'm ready to go if they need me". He wore his uniform proudly whenever he could, sometimes even when formal attire was not required or expected. He even purchased a uniform for a close family friend, Lee Harvey, who was a Korean War Vet, so they could march together in the Memorial Day Parade. He was always taking his Marine workbooks with him in case he had some time to study. It was this enthusiasm and commitment to the service of his country that earned him the promotion to Sergeant on January 1st, after just 3 and a half years, a virtually unheard-of achievement for a Reservist. He was also the only Marine to have hand sanitizer with him at all times during his weekend drills.
Eight months after graduating from Liberty, Jesse began studying theology and apologetics at Southern Evangelical Theological Seminary. His decision to go to that particular school was almost entirely based on the reputation of the school's president, Norman Geisler, one of the most knowledgeable Christian thinkers and scholars of our time. Again, Jesse's desire to do the best he could spilled over into his personal walk with Jesus. He went to seminary for only 2 reasons, to know more about Jesus and to be able to answer questions from those within his ever widening circle of influence. The semester he spent at seminary was very gratifying for Jesse, and he was sure that God used that time to prepare him for sharing his faith with his buddies in Iraq. In situations such as combat, even the bravest man will have questions about God, and Jesse used his knowledge every day, and was the honorary Chaplain of his unit for a time.
His amazing attitude and character proved invaluable in Iraq. He always volunteered for the tough jobs that few wanted to do, including the mission on January 26th, 2005. He entertained all those around him with his dancing, smile, jokes, and sincere desire to know how everyone was doing. He received tons of packages and always shared with those around him. He even entertained his family and friends at home with his humorous letters, while still sharing his strong faith and wisdom beyond his years. His last postcard came on Wednesday, one week after his ultimate sacrifice in Iraq. He had drawn another funny picture of himself and in his message he said "I'm excited for what the future holds!" How right he was to be excited. The birth of a democracy he died to help establish, and his eternity at the right hand of God. It just doesn't get any more exciting than that.
Jesse never formulated a clear career path, and he often joked about being excited for the future as long as it didn't involve work, or about asking his Mom to come up with a career for him. However, his true career goal, from a young age, was to be the man God wanted him to be. That was always his main focus, and the motivation for his drive to learn more about God. While at Liberty, he and his roommate, Nate, would talk for hours about theology and the Bible. Nearly every time he called home he would have a question for his father on some verse or doctrinal issue. After each class in seminary, Jesse would never fail to ask his teacher, Dr. Geisler, several questions on the lecture that day. His recent years were devoted almost solely to knowing God better, and God honored that by calling Jesse to meet Him in person. What an amazing privilege!
Jesse's father, mother, sister, and brother especially wish to express the peace and joy they are experiencing by saying, "There can be no question that this is the presence of God and the prayers of thousands surrounding us. Had we tried to foresee this situation, it is doubtful that anyone would have predicted that we would be constantly praising God in the midst of our sorrow for the Lord's peace that passes all understanding and for the hope of meeting Jesse again in our eternal heavenly home. Not only do we feel the presence of our Lord, but also the presence of Jesse as he experiences the ultimate joy of being with our Savior. We are daily uplifted by the Prince of Peace, and are continually seeing the ways that God is glorified through Jesse's death. We are also constantly reminded of God's unfailing mercy towards us.
Our Father knew from the beginning that this would be Jesse's time, yet He wanted to make it as easy for us as possible. From Matthew, Jesse, and Heather being home-schooled so we spent as much time together as a family as we could, to God's grace in bringing Matthew and Heather together in Pittsburgh hours before receiving the news of Jesse's death, to a million other tiny mercies that become evident each day, we see the loving hand of God always with us. We know no greater joy than that Jesse gave his life proudly and bravely for his country, and that through his life and death Christ has been glorified, and through His mercy we have no regrets concerning our lives together with Jesse. It is our privilege to be used by God for His purpose, and through His grace we are truly able to exclaim, "Praise the Lord, it is well with my soul!"