It was a hero’s welcome full of surprise for one Frankfort man Aug. 1 as he returned home from Afghanistan. Residents lined the streets waving flags, as friends and family embraced him upon his return.
“It is an absolute surprise,” First Lieutenant Phillip Lee said. “It’s wonderful. I got ambushed. This is the only time it’s ever happened to me. Usually, it’s me doing that. Wow, there [are] just no words.”
Lee graduated elementary school from Summit Hill and went on to receive his high school diploma from Lincoln-Way in 2002 and Bachelor’s Degree from University of St. Francis in 2006. He followed up those accolades by earning a law degree in 2012 and a Master’s Degree in 2013 from Northern Illinois University. Additionally, he holds professional certifications in negotiations and international arbitration from Humboldt University School of Law in Berlin, Germany.
Phillip’s mom, Angie Lee, arranged the homecoming with the help of family and other members of the community. She said the surprise homecoming could not have been made possible without everyone’s support.
Phillip’s morning started around 5:15 a.m., and, as time went on, his plan was to drop off the commander.
The day took a turn around 4:45 p.m., at which point Lee was greeted at Home Depot by first responders and a pack of motorcycle riders only to be escorted home.
“The last time I was home was early February for emergency leave,” Phillip said. “I was here for 10 days, because my son was born in early January.”
Around that time, Phillip was working as an operations officer in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. It was there he received the Purple Heart from the commander of U.S. Forces.
Several months ago, Phillip and a couple other soldiers in combat were met by 120-milligram mortar weapon blast; they survived.
“That’s the closest I ever want get to a 120 in my entire life,” Phillip said. “I never want to get that close to that thing again.”
Phillip said what keeps him motivated to serve out his duties in the U.S. Army comes down to “pure grit.”
“The training, of course, is extremely difficult leading up to it,” he said. “It’s not only a physical thing, it’s a very mental thing, as well. Just being able to push past things like fear, hunger, discomfort, the elements—hot, cold—you name it. You have to be impervious to discomfort, things like that. It really turns you into a pretty tough individual.”
Phillip said having contact with people from home helped him, as well.
“Home and the idea of what home is, that’s one of the reasons you keep going,” he said. “It’s just good to be home.”
While part of Phillip’s intent to continue serving in the U.S. Army remains in his hands, Angie said she is making peace with her son’s decision.
“I really I think back to three years ago [when] my husband passed,” she said. “He’s also a Purple Heart recipient. He was a Vietnam vet and losing him at such a young age, I had to start thinking about dreams. My children helped me bring my dream to reality, and they have dreams. As much as you’d like to keep them right here safe, this is what you need to do, and this was something inside of him. You just give your blessing.”
Angie added, “I was able to communicate with him—not during special missions—but every other day.”
Phillip said he is content with the decisions he has made to choose the U.S. Army over his career as a lawyer.
Phillip attributes his desire to serve in part to his father, Daniel Lee.
“He did play a pretty big part in it,” he said. “There were a lot of reasons, but especially for military service, it’s just something I value quite a bit.”
Phillip has a couple weeks to enjoy at home before departing for Fort Campbell, Ky.
Angie said it’s going to be so much fun.
Phillip intends to spend time with his son, as well as hangout with family and some old friends.
“I go back [to Fort Campbell in three weeks,] and it’s kind of a mystery what happens next,” Phillip said.
Phillip wanted to thank the dozens of community members who came out to welcome him home.
“This is such an honor, such a homecoming,” Phillip said. “It’s just really something else.”