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Community shows strong support for K-9 benefit



BENEFIT
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Laurie Coffin, owner of Noseworthy Real Estate in Ashland, offers some attention to Lex, the guest of honor during Noseworthy’s benefit for overseas military K-9 teams, held on Saturday. Lex was wounded alongside his human companion, Marine Cpl. Dustin J. Lee, during a roadside mortar attack in Iraq and stayed with Lee, even after he passed on, until a rescue team arrived. Members of Lee’s family, who now own Lex, were also on hand for Saturday’s event. (Brendan Berube) (click for larger version)
September 15, 2010
ASHLAND — It was an emotional weekend, but also an encouraging one, for the team at Noseworthy Real Estate, who were overwhelmed by the outpouring of local support for their annual benefit for overseas military K-9 teams, held this year on Sept. 11.

Area residents turned out in force for the benefit gala, admiring the classic cars lining Noseworthy's parking lot, taking in demonstrations from the Hanscom Air Force Base and State Police Troop F K-9 teams, browsing through the selection of more than 50 raffle prizes and 35 gift certificates donated by local businesses, and making their own contributions to the cause in the form of monetary donations and supplies.

"It was unbelievable," Laurie Coffin, owner of Noseworthy Real Estate and driving force behind the event, recalled during an interview on Monday.

While the team at Noseworthy brought in "a ton of money" in support of military K-9 unites and the Troop F unit and experienced some "really wonderful moments," Coffin said that having the family of Dustin J. Lee — a Marine corporal killed during a mortar attack in Iraq whose story inspired her to organize the benefit — on hand to share in the experience, along with Lex, Lee's canine companion, who stayed with him in his final moments, was what meant the most to her.

The angels that inspired her to organize the annual benefit gala and have made it such a success continued to play a major role in the days leading up to the Lee family's arrival, she said, explaining that after being turned down by several limousine companies throughout the area, she was stunned when the owner of Prestige Limousine in Plymouth agreed to send a limo to pick up the Lees at Logan Airport in Boston free of charge.

In what she referred to as an "angel tap" moment — one of those times in life when it seems as though a higher power has stepped in to offer a revelation or a new way of looking at things — Coffin said she was taken even further aback when the company's owner said that Lee's story reminded her of her own father, who was once stranded in Korea for three weeks with only his loyal canine for companionship.

When she arrived at Logan to pick up the Lees, Coffin said she was met by the K-9 unit from Massachusetts State Police Troop F (a coincidence that was not lost on her), which offered to escort her to the gate and meet the Lees as a show of solidarity with Dustin's father, who serves as a state trooper in Mississippi.

As passengers disembarking from the Lees' plane entered the terminal and saw her and the officers arrayed in a receiving line, Coffin said that some of them walked up to her and asked who the group was waiting for, to which she replied "We're here to pick up a war hero," meaning Lex.

As word began to pass among the passengers and others in the vicinity, Coffin said, everyone in the terminal began to make their way over and stand alongside her and the officers from Troop F.

"I've never heard an airport quiet before," she recalled with amazement, explaining that it would have been possible to hear a pin drop as the growing crowd waited silently for the Lees to enter the terminal.

In a moment that could have been taken from a movie, she said, Dustin's mother, Rachel, entered the building with Lex in tow, and was greeted with what began as a few scattered claps and grew into a roar of applause, leaving Rachel with tears streaming down her face.

"It was a moment in time," Coffin said, fighting back tears of her own.

As emotional as the Lees' arrival in Boston had been, Coffin said that for her, it paled in comparison to a moment that occurred while the Lees were helping the event staff prepare for the benefit gala on Saturday.

That morning, she explained, Cathy Crane — the mother of Army Capt. Doug DiCenzo, a 1995 Plymouth Regional High School graduate who was killed in Iraq in 2006 — stopped by the site of the gala in the hope of meeting Rachel Lee.

When she gently grabbed Rachel's hand and turned her around to introduce the two of them, Coffin said she was almost overpowered by the look the two women exchanged.

"It almost tipped me over backward," she said, explaining that the two women didn't cry, as she expected them to, but simply looked at each other, nodded, and embraced.

"It was a moment that … I didn't know what to say," she added — one of many unforgettable moments surrounding an event that she said left her "very proud of New England," and that she was honored to be a part of.

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