Sam Burnham, Curator
I first met Danny Lee in the spring of 1998, just a few weeks shy of 22 years ago. I was fresh out of college and beginning what would become a 21 year career in the fire service. He was roughly a year and a half ahead of me on that career path and one of his assignments placed him close to the training facility where I was learning the basics. He won me over from the very beginning. We became fast friends.
Throughout the next 21 years our careers overlapped often. We were never permanently assigned together but we worked different sifts at the same station on numerous occasions. We also worked in neighboring stations and responded to calls together. But it was in the Honor Guard that we really bonded. Our duties in that branch of our department included honoring the lives of our friends and coworkers who had slipped the bonds of this world and entered the next. For that reason I feel it is appropriate that I'm here doing that very thing for him.
As I look back at his career one fact rises above the rest. He was a man who went out of his way to help his coworkers better themselves. He offered his advice, he offered his time, and he offered his resources to enable people to put their best foot forward. He just had a way of helping people realize their strengths and how to use them. He had, in a sense, recreated himself and had a lot of insight on advancing, growing, bettering yourself.
But the profession was merely what created proximity. Friendship was bigger than that. Through many conversations around the fire hall or during down time at a cemetery detail we talked about life and death and all those entail. We had a lot in common including a love of funk music - particularly Parliament and also Bootsy Collins. We laughed a lot. We both loved history and travel. We often talked politics and religion, a rare delicacy these days. One of the best compliments I've ever received was Danny telling me that he and I had some of the best conversations he had ever had. We often disagreed on things, but we always listened and we always respected each other. That's the way it should be.
It is because of those discussions, particularly the ones on faith, that I know I'll see my friend again. We shared the same faith, the same God. Perhaps that's ultimately why we got along so well.
I long suspected this day would eventually come. Danny was closer to my parents' age than mine so I always figured I'd one day write a memorial for him. But this is still so premature. He was not an old man by any means. He was taken from us by a cruel disease that may have been a result of the very service to others he dedicated his life to. He's leaving behind so many people who loved him so dearly. It is easy to share the platitudes of one day seeing him in eternity. Reality slaps me though when I think of his wife, his children, and his grandchildren and how this tragedy tears at their lives. It just doesn't seem fair.
Our last meeting was bittersweet. But we parted with a handshake and a smile. That's how I want to remember him. He had a large personality and he used it to serve others - the Army, the fire department, in his church, and in his personal life. But a handshake and a smile is what I want to remember because when you tear it all away, he was my friend. That's what matters. Memory eternal.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire