Lt. Col. Mark Weber, Minnesota National Guard officer who spoke, wrote about cancer battle, dies at 41Weber’s ability to defy — yet deal honestly with — death inspired many. First diagnosed with Stage 4 gastrointestinal cancer in 2010, he continued to work, give speeches and even write a book before dying at his home Thursday.
By: Tad Vezner, St. Paul Pioneer Press / MCT
When Minnesota National Guard Lt. Col. Mark Weber spoke before an audience of supporters last year, he broached a familiar topic. He spoke candidly, and movingly, about death.
"I got another uninvited guest in the back row. ... His name is Death. And I mention him because I see him, and I hear him at least once a month. And he whispers something in my ear I’d like to pass along to each of you: He says, ’Live. Because I am coming,’ " Weber said.
Weber’s ability to defy — yet deal honestly with — death inspired many. First diagnosed with Stage 4 gastrointestinal cancer in 2010, he often was told he had months to live. He continued to work, give speeches and even write a book before dying at his Rosemount home Thursday afternoon, three years after his diagnosis. He was 41.
"I’ve learned to remind people that they have this core capability," Weber said during the same speech last year. "When they say ’can’t,’ what they really mean is ’don’t want to.’ And that’s a different thing altogether. People have told me, ’The only reason you can do this is you’re a soldier.’ That’s just flat-out wrong."
The military’s top brass traveled to Minnesota often to both speak with and honor Weber. Included among them was the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who came to Minnesota last year to give Weber the Legion of Merit medal for exceptionally meritorious conduct.
After 18 years as a commissioned officer in the Army, Weber gained a reputation as intelligent, spirited and competent. He eventually was appointed to the personal staff of Gen. David Petraeus in Iraq.
Under Petraeus, Weber learned Kurdish and advised Gen. Babaker Shawkat Zebari, the commander and chief of staff of the Iraqi Joint Forces. The Iraqi commander said Weber was "the best U.S. officer to ever serve on his staff."
In 2010, after he had returned to Minnesota, Petraeus asked Weber to serve under him again in Afghanistan — but within the week, Weber received his diagnosis. The then-38-year-old told Petraeus he would have to decline.
"It was such a high to such a low," Weber said in a Pioneer Press interview last year.
Weber became a recruiter for the Minnesota National Guard — and promptly broke the annual recruitment record. Minnesota’s old annual enlistment record was 125; he signed up 167 — after starting four months into the year.
"Who comes back to work after all that?" Brig. Gen. Neal Loidolt, assistant adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, said before Weber’s speech last year. "He asked for the grace to handle that part of it (his treatment) the way he wanted to. That was the Weber way."
In June 2012, Weber was told his liver was covered with more than a dozen additional tumors. After five years with the National Guard, he finally allowed himself to take medical leave.
"There’s acceptable norms, and when you fall outside those norms, it’s no longer noble, it’s no longer heroic," Weber said. "It’s like, ’Good grief, man, what are you trying to prove?’ "
Still, Weber continued to make appearances, and he finished a novel, "Tell My Sons: A Father’s Last Letters," a letter of sorts to his three sons that he began writing after his diagnosis. According to the New York Post, the book — first self-published — sold 10,000 copies in several months. It was picked up by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, and appeared in bookstores this month.
Born and raised in St. Paul’s West End, down the street from the Schmidt Brewery, Weber graduated from St. Francis de Sales and Cretin-Derham Hall. He met his wife, Kristin, at Minnesota State University-Mankato, where he graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in history.
He joined the ROTC in 1989 and was stationed in the Army at seven bases. He was deployed to Iraq under Petraeus from 2005 to 2006.
Late Thursday night, Weber’s family announced his death on his CaringBridge page.
He is survived by his wife and sons Matt, Noah and Joshua. Funeral arrangements are pending.