By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Westborough – Rita Lee of Westborough celebrated her 94th birthday Oct. 5 with a gathering of four generations. Also on that day, she was accompanied by a granddaughter to the Registry of Motor Vehicles where Lee successfully renewed her driver’s license.
“I’m fortunate that I’m very close to my family,” she said. “I have a birthday party every year, and we have parties for Thanksgiving and Christmas, too. Any excuse for us to get together.”
She also meets monthly to socialize with two groups of friends who have become like her extended family.
And each Veterans Day, she’s joined by townspeople to remember her son 2nd Lt. Vincent “Vin” B. Lee, U.S. Marine Corps, who was killed at age 24 in 1969 during a search and destroy operation in the Vietnam War. The Gold Star Mother lays a wreath at the Vietnam Memorial on Ruggles Street.
She has experienced the military from two generations. Her husband, Frank, was drafted in World War II and later served in the Korean War.
“My husband and Vin had a very special relationship,” she noted. “Vin admired him. When Frank died, part of him went, too.”
As the only son of the family, he consulted with his mother before enlisting in the Marine Corps.
“I said to him, ‘It’s your life,’” she relayed.
Her son was posthumously awarded a Silver Star Medal, which is America’s third-highest combat military decoration. His citation states in part, “He valiantly refused to allow his companions to come to his aid and resolutely continued adjusting artillery fire on the enemy force until he succumbed to his wounds. By his courage, bold initiative and selfless concern for his fellowmen, 2nd Lt. Lee inspired all who observed him and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps.”
Lee appreciates that her son’s spirit continues to be remembered decades later in various ways.
A fitness center has been named after him at Westborough High School (WHS), where he graduated in 1963 and has since been inducted in the Athletic Hall of Fame. Because he was an avid hockey player, WHS annually presents a student athlete the Vincent B. Lee Memorial Trophy. The most recent recipient sent Lee a handwritten letter, stating in part, “I wanted to express my gratitude and how humbling it is to share my name on a trophy with your son.”
Two years ago, Lee received a phone call from a classmate of her son at the Officers Candidate School in Quantico, Va. The caller was in search of her son’s close relatives to invite them to their 50th class reunion. Lee gratefully accepted their invitation.
“It was a wonderful affair,” she said of the reunion. “Vin’s buddies put together their frequent-flyer miles to pay for my way to go. I was the only Gold Star Mother there; all the others have passed away.”
Also attending the reunion were Lee’s daughter-in-law Susan, and grandson Brian, who was only 14 months when his father died. Brian enjoyed learning more about his dad by hearing stories from the classmates.
Though they live out of state, Susan loyally phone calls her mother-in-law the exact same day and time weekly. Lee also has a daughter, Pam, five more grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
In addition to support from family and friends, Lee cites her faith for helping to cope with the loss.
“You have to put your faith in God and do the best you can,” she said.
This Gold Star Mother also displays her remembrance of her son each time she uses the recently renewed driver’s license. Her vehicle license plate reads “VIN LEE.”