I have often quoted Rick Lowry, as I did in my tribute to Bill Kristoff and his family (Hero of the Month, November, 2014): “Where Do We Get These People?” because I am so deeply moved by the patriotism exhibited every day in this country by so many. Joseph Lemm is another remarkable American and a courageous patriot among so many that answered the call after 9/11.
This is his story.
Joe grew up in Nebraska, spending his early years on his grandfather’s farm near Beemer, a small town in the middle of nowhere. He was one of 24 students who graduated from Beemer High School. He loved fishing. He loved basketball and Cornhuskers football. He earned the nickname “Superman” from his colleagues for his work ethics and his size (6’5″). Along the way, he married Christine and had two wonderful children: teenage daughter Brooke and 4 year old Ryan.
Joe was 45 when he and his Guard unit were called up to go to Afghanistan in 2015. It was his third deployment since 9/11 to Iraq or Afghanistan. On December 21, 2015, he was part of a patrol of American and Afghan troops near Bagram Air Base when a Taliban suicide bomber drove a motorcycle into their convoy.
In the days since his death, there have been numerous tributes remarking on his dual life of service. As Mayor de Blassio said in his eulogy: “A young man grew up in our country’s heartland and dreamed of coming here and doing something meaningful. He did and then he went a step further and answered the call of duty to his nation.” Police Commissioner Bratton, perhaps the finest law enforcement officer currently serving in America, also spoke: “He chose selflessness. He chose sacrifice. He chose to serve.” By honoring Joe as my hero of the month, I am also honoring the 1,100 members of the NYPD who also serve a dual life in the military reserves. One hundred and thirty of them are currently on active duty.
Joe joined the Guard as a teenager in Nebraska and the NYPD in 2000. Joe, still new to the force, spent several weeks sifting through debris at Ground Zero after 9/11. Eventually, he rose to the rank of Detective and worked tough assignments in the Bronx.
Joe’s services were held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Midtown Manhattan, to a packed church and once outside into an overcast afternoon where thousands of his colleagues from the NYPD and the New York Air National Guard lined Fifth Avenue to honor him. It was the same church that in June 1968 held requiem mass for Bobby Kennedy that I remember so vividly.
I wish we could give Christine back her husband and give
Brooke and Ryan back their daddy. But it is not to be. They, too, have
made the ultimate sacrifice.
Thank you, Joe, for your service to New York, to our country and to preserve our freedoms. You are my “Superman.” — Jim
P.S. — I learned after reading about Joe, from Jen Salvati at Veterans Airlift Command (Hero of the Month January 2014), that we dedicated an airlift mission to bring Joe’s family from Nebraska to his services in NYC. Another reason to continue our support of their great service to our veterans and it truly brings this story full circle.