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Two tragedies hit MJ friends
Oct 06, 2004 12:00 am
MT JULIET - The four boys were inseparable. They met in elementary and middle school and never wavered in their friendship. They were tight.
Tyler Cates, Wesley Becker, Nicholai Reed and B.J. Hamblin had sleepovers and camping trips and shared their trouble with girlfriends and finding their life's paths. One could not be seen without the others. They considered themselves brothers. They all walked the line as proud graduates of Mt. Juliet High School's Class of 2001.
Tyler and Wesley joined the Marines, and still they managed to coordinate leaves, juggle work schedules and meet at one another's houses to catch up and reminisce. Nothing could tear them apart. Until now.
Death and a severe accident have dealt them a terrible blow. In a period of one week, Cates was shot and killed in Iraq, and three days later Becker was injured in a horrible motorcycle accident. His spine was completely severed when he lost control of his motorcycle and was thrown against a tree. He will never walk again.
The group is incomplete and inconsolably bewildered. Mourning for one while lending unshakable support to the other.
Cates and Becker met in third grade at West Elementary School. Becker was the new kid at school. Cates told him where to find his lunch ticket and from then on they were buddies. Reed met Cates in the seventh grade and Reed was introduced to Becker.
"Ty was the outgoing one," Reed recalls. "He was the joker. Friendly and knew everyone by name. Everyone wanted to be around him. Especially me."
Reed says Becker was into computers.
"He always had a new toy or game, we lived at each other's houses."
The trio of boys grew when Cates met Hamblin in band at Mt. Juliet High School. It was a perfect match.
"B.J. joined the group," Reed said. "He loved cars. There was not one thing we all shared other than our friendship. We were all connected in some way."
Reed says they were "the closest group of friends you could ever hope for."
Becker joined the Marines right after high school. Cates joined about a month later. Still the young men kept in contact through e-mails and visits home. Being a Marine was the perfect job for Becker, Reed said.
"He was born to do it," he said.
Becker was on leave two weeks ago. He stayed at Reed's house. He was to deploy to Iraq this week. They were together when they got the phone call that terrible Tuesday morning.
"My cell had a message," Reed said quietly. "It was from Ty's mother. There can be no good message from your best friend's mother at 7 a.m."
She gave him the news. Her son and his best friend had been shot in battle and was dead.
"I woke Wes and just handed him the phone," Reed said. Both in shock, the two young men went straight to Cates' house to be with his family. Later, they drove over to Hamblin's house to give him the news.
They broke down together and toasted their lost friend.
Later, Becker and Reed planned a motorcycle ride. A special day spent together to "have some time" and remember Cates as they prepared to attend his funeral. They were both to be pallbearers.
Fifteen minutes into the ride Reed noticed his buddy was missing. They were on a curvy road near Hickory Hollow.
"I crested a hill and saw my friend," he recalls. "The next hill I couldn't' see him. I turned back to find him."
He did. Terribly hurt in the woods where he landed after being thrown from his bike. He was wrapped around a tree, still conscious and in pain.
"I held his hand and called 911," Reed said. "I told him I was there for him and would be forever."
Becker was rushed to Vanderbilt University Medical Center. His spine was completely severed and is paralyzed from the waist down. Surgery capped the ends of his broken spine. Reed and Hamblin were by his side the entire time except when they attended their other best friend's funeral in Mt. Juliet.
"You hear of people who lost people in wars or terrible accidents," Reed noted. "You never expect it to happen to your best friends. All within one week. It's a huge shock. My mind wanders off and I ask how can this happen."
Wes is Paul Becker's only child. This father is in shock yet resolute. On Friday he was with his son when he was flown to a special spine hospital in Richmond, Va., where he will begin to start a new life.
"He'll be here for several months," Paul Becker said from Richmond. "We relish the community support. He's strong and in pretty good spirits."
Paul Becker said his son's accident is "unimaginably painful and to just pray."
He said he can't imagine what these young men are going through.
Another parent, Diane Reed, is devastated.
"They were always together," she said. "It's horrible. They were my boys. They slept on my couch. It is breaking my heart."
Hamblin said things are "just so messed up" now.
"Our group was together everyday for years," he said. "Now one is gone and the other is so hurt. I taught Ty how to play bass guitar. I remember sleepovers and riding in Nick's bummy cars. Now we are no longer."
Hamblin was the thoughtful one. Becker was the quiet, introspective one, and Cates was the ladies man. Reed was the go-getter.
"Out of the thousands of American troops in Iraq, how can my buddy be there 30 days and catch a bullet? How can Wes be paralyzed? It doesn't stack up." Hamblin wondered aloud.
The remaining trio says the terrible accidents solidify their friendship and make it stronger. It would be what Cates would want, they said.
Reed said he doesn't know if he'll ever ride a motorcycle again. It's too painful and out of respect for Becker and his family.
Hamblin and Reed attended Ty's funeral last week. Carrying the coffin of their best friend. Becker was beside himself because he couldn't lay his friend to rest. However, in his absence a small part of Becker was with his best friend.
Inside the coffin next to Cates for eternity is Becker's Marine issued K-BAR fighting knife.
Editor's Note: Members of the community are encouraged to contact Wesley in support. The address is Wesley Becker, 1 West SCI, McQuire VA Medical Center, 1201 Broad Rock Blvd., Richmond, VA 23249.
Mt. Juliet Managing Editor Laurie Everett can be reached at 754-6397 or by e-mail at email@example.com.