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Minnesota National Guard
Dying Minnesota Guardsman says goodbye

By Tad Vezner
Posted:   06/15/2012 12:01:00 AM CDT

While Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Mark Weber has given plenty of speeches -- at high schools and elementary schools, Memorial Day and Veterans Day events -- he knew this one would probably be the most important

And despite the cancer-related fluid that frequently invades his lungs, he'd have to sing

"I hate to state the obvious here, but I am dying," Weber, 40, of Rosemount told an audience of 200 National Guard members and others Thursday evening, June 14, at the Minnesota History Center in St Paul

While on a Boy Scouts hiking trip in New Mexico in 2007, then-11-year-old Matt Weber -- the oldest of Mark's three sons -- received a call He wasn't told why he had to fly home immediately, but when he finally was sat down on his living room couch and told his dad had months to live, he didn't know how to react "I have that image buried in my head, that moment I went upstairs and cried," he said "But you get used to it Life goes on" (Pioneer Press: Scott Takushi)

"This song is about a dying Civil War soldier who is telling a comrade to bring a message to his father I'm wearing the same uniform as that Union soldier and my son is going to sing this song today with his father"

The day before, Weber and his 16-year-old son, Matt, took a break from their umpteenth attempt at practicing that song The soldier's message in "Tell My Father," a ballad from the Broadway musical "The Civil War," is about wanting his father to know he fought and died well

Mark Weber finally looked up at his instructor

"Are we doing that 'say goodbye' part right?" he asked Steven Albaugh, choir director at Rosemount High School Albaugh smiled, nodded, and said nothing

Weber turned to his son "You're kind of following my lead, aren't you?"

Matt Weber laughed "Yeah"

His father took a medical leave at the beginning of June after years of refusing to take time off, even though he suffers from gastrointestinal cancer, which has cost him 70 percent of his liver, shuts it down several times a month and once caused him to hemorrhage half his blood supply

And while the Flag Day event was a commemoration of the Army's birthday, ranking officers noted that Weber, the keynote speaker, was the main reason so many people attended

Brig Gen Neal Loidolt, assistant adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, said Weber inspires every soldier whose hand he shakes

"Who comes back to work after all that?" Loidolt asked "He asked for the grace to handle that part of it (his treatment) the way he wanted to That was the Weber way"
Cris Anstey, a retired brigadier (the equivalent of a general) in the Australian army, flew to the Twin Cities just to attend In 2005, Anstey and Weber served on Army Gen David Petraeus' staff as personal advisers to the chief of the Iraqi military

"He's a mate, and I wanted to say hello," Anstey said, noting that when they worked together, "(the Iraqi military chief) got more sense out of Mark than he ever did out of me"

Matt Weber, who will be a junior at Rosemount High School, is a bit shy around his dad The day before the performance, in private, he said, "I was kind of surprised he asked me (to sing) I figured he was just going to give another speech"

"I didn't think he could sing, at least not for me," he said, adding, "He's not bad"

When told of his son's comments, Weber teared up "I don't really ever hear that," he said

Getting himself together, he laughs -- something he does often "I dreamed of a day where he could keep up with me Now he can smoke me"

While on a Boy Scout hiking trip in New Mexico in 2010, Matt, then 14 and the eldest of Weber's three sons -- received a call He wasn't told why he had to fly home immediately, but when his parents finally sat him down on the living room couch and told him his father had months to live, he didn't know how to react

"I have that image buried in my head, that moment I went upstairs and cried," he said "But you get used to it Life goes on"

Doctors broke the news to Mark Weber just weeks after a dream promotion

Petraeus had told him to pack his bags again; he was going to be the top military adviser to Afghanistan's newly appointed interior minister

But this time, informed he had perhaps months to live, Weber had to decline
"It was such a high to such a low," Weber said

His wife, Kristin, appears embarrassed to make the statement, "I would take a deployment over this any day Some people would think I'm crazy for saying that"
Instead of going to Afghanistan, Weber stayed in Minnesota, where he, became a recruiter for the National Guard He didn't mind He grew up in St Paul and graduated from St Francis de Sales and Cretin-Derham Hall He met his future wife at Minnesota State University-Mankato, where he graduated in 1994 with a bachelor's in history

In 2009, Weber broke the Guard's national recruitment record Minnesota's old annual enlistment record was 125; he signed up 167 -- after starting four months into the year

In October, he was promoted to be the National Guard's director of strategic communication Despite the diagnosis -- the sepsis that strikes him twice monthly, making him feel like his blood is boiling -- Weber has worked full time

"I've learned to remind people that they have this core capability When they say 'can't' what they really mean is 'don't want to' And that's a different thing altogether," Weber said "People have told me, 'The only reason you can do this is you're a soldier' That's just flat-out wrong"

On June 1, Weber was told his liver was covered with more than a dozen additional tumors He finally allowed himself to take medical leave

"There's acceptable norms, and when you fall outside those norms, it's no longer noble, it's no longer heroic," Weber said "It's like, 'Good grief, man, what are you trying to prove?' It becomes beyond unbelievable There must be something mentally wrong with you"

To the audience Thursday, he apologized for being morbid (though no one seemed to mind), and added, "I got another uninvited guest in the back row His name is Death And I mention him because I see him, and I hear him at least once a month And he whispers something in my ear I'd like to pass along to each of you: He says 'Live Because I am coming' "

When asked why so many people follow his father on his CaringBridge website, or simply stop him to say they are moved by his words, Matt Weber said, "I think it's because of the work he does How he carries himself"

As the song ended Thursday, men and women wiped their tears Then, there was an ovation as father and son embraced

Tad Vezner can be reached at 651-228-5461
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