From the Publisher's Desk: One man’s son, Del Norte’s legacy

By Michele Grgas Thomas The Triplicate February 29, 2012 06:46 pm

NOTE: I have written about Dustin and Jon Weber before in a column published January 10. The column was inspired by the story “Tribute Trek” published in the Triplicate January 7 and in the Curry Coastal Pilot last weekend. Links to the articles and news stories about Dustin Weber are provided at the end of this column.

Last year’s tsunami claimed one victim, 25-year-old Dustin Weber, who moved here from Bend, Ore., just three weeks before his death. His maternal grandmother had just given him an old home in Klamath and he was in the process of fixing it up to be his own.

And so when Dustin Weber got out of bed on the morning of March 11, I’m certain he did not intend to drown that day. He and his friends did what hundreds of other Del Norters — despite warnings and pleas — did. Curiosity about the tsunami led spectators to the water’s edge. Near my home I watched couples with their children sitting on the guard rail facing Pebble Beach and waiting for “the big one.” As I drove past, dozens of people were standing on the beach.

Dustin was taking photos at the mouth of the Klamath River and did not see the wave that snuck up along the shoreline and pushed him over. The strength of the surge overpowered him so he couldn’t get up. A turbulent churning ocean carried his body to a sand bar in Astoria, Ore., where it was discovered on April 2.

As a mother and a resident of the county in which this boy was lost, I am filled with empathy for Dustin Weber’s family. I was so touched when I read about Dustin’s father’s decision to trek 400 miles to honor his son that I wrote my column about it and called Mr. Weber in January.

I’ve never met Jon Weber but on the phone he’s friendly, polite and humble. When we first spoke he had begun to focus on his healing trek, channeling his anguish and pain into training for this physical challenge — his unique style of mourning. He plans to run 200 miles and bike 200 miles over 10 days, following, in reverse, the route of his son’s body after he drowned.

Tomorrow morning at low tide, about 11:30 a.m., Jon will be escorted by emergency responders onto the sand bar in Astoria where Dustin’s body was found. He’ll point his compass south and begin his journey towards closure on foot and on bicycle carrying Dustin’s ashes with him to Del Norte County. He plans to lay his son to rest at the ancestral home on Requa Road on the anniversary of his son’s death.

I spoke with Jon last week and he sounded confident and eager to begin. He feels strong and as ready as he’ll ever be. His voice still breaks when he talks about Dustin, who was the joy of his life, he said.

I, too, find myself fighting back tears when we hang up. I feel such sorrow for Jon and his family and I’m so damn frustrated because I haven’t been able to help Jon in a way I thought I could.

At Tsunami Fountain in downtown Crescent City there’s a plaque dedicated to the 11 victims of the 1964 tsunami. I told Jon Weber about it and he wants to see it. With all due respect to the memories of those 11 souls lost nearly 50 years ago, I’ve asked about having a smaller plaque for Dustin placed there. Jon Weber’s emotions run high when he imagines his son’s name living on as a reminder of how precarious our footing here is.

Time is running out as I advocate for a plaque. To me it is simply the right thing to do. I was stunned last week when, over lunch, one man — a father —looked me straight in the eye and said that we don’t memorialize reckless behavior here. And to that I respond, who made you God?

I hope that our city mothers and fathers will do the right thing. I felt a glimmer of hope when I spoke to one City Council member Friday afternoon. I hope that at the very least there will be sincere gestures of hospitality shown to Mr. Weber both in Crescent City and in Klamath when he arrives with Dustin’s remains.

The Del Norte County I know is supportive when tragedy strikes and gracious to our visitors. I believe this community has an open heart as well as an open mind and ultimately will stand together to mourn a child and embrace his family.

• www.triplicate.com/Opinion/From-the-Publisher-s-Desk/From-the-Publishers-Desk-Mourning-tsunami-victi

• www.triplicate.com/Northcoast-Life/Northcoast-Life/Tribute-trek

• www.triplicate.com/News/Local-News/Tsunami-victims-body-found-at-Columbia-mouth

• www.triplicate.com/News/Local-News/TSUNAMI-UPDATE