MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Hundreds of mourners paid their final respects on Friday to a proud Army officer and devoted husband and dad.

At 38, Lt. Col. Mark Weber was on the fast track for a successful military career. But the story of his unexpected journey would reach far beyond the halls of the Pentagon.

“He was a scholar. He was just a joy to be around, very inspirational,” says Lt. Col. Kevin Olson, spokesperson for the Minnesota National Guard.

Weber’s inspiring story was born of tragedy in 2010. He had just completed impressive service in Iraq as the U.S. Army’s top liaison to the chief of Iraq defense.

He was personally selected by General David Patreaus to assume a similar role with Army leadership in Afghanistan.

But during a pre-deployment physical, doctors gave him the devastating news. Weber was diagnosed with a terminal cancer and would be engaged in a far different fight.

For the next two years, Weber would remain in uniform and perform work at the Pentagon. But last year, his battle with cancer became too much to bear, forcing the 19-year soldier into early retirement.

In August 2012, the Army held an “end of service” ceremony for Weber in Rosemount. The service attracted special honors from the nation’s highest general – Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Martin Dempsey.

Using a boxing analogy, Chairman Dempsey told the audience that Mark Weber is somebody who “punched well above his weight.”

It was a reference not only to his drive and determination for military tasks, but also to what Weber did in facing down death.

When he received the news that he didn’t have long to live, Weber decided to devote his final strength to writing a book of letters to his three sons.

The book, “Tell My Sons,” has since become a New York Times bestseller. It’s a collection of life’s lessons to help his boys understand inner strength, and facing down one’s challenges.

“It was inspirational to see Mark as he focused on writing that book. And he said ‘One thing that I’m not going to deviate from is that this is truly a letter to my sons,” Lt. Col. Olson said.

On a warm Friday afternoon, surrounded by close family and friends, Weber was given full military honors. The 21-gun salute to a fallen veteran was followed by the piercing sound of “Taps.”

His lessons in fatherhood will live long after he’s laid to rest – an example to all of us of what dying with dignity truly means.

In a November 2012 interview with WCCO, Weber laid out his grand hope for “Tell My Sons.”

“Figuring out the courage and a constant search for wisdom to get through that all, and to get through it all as honestly as you can – that’s what I want for my boys,” Weber said.

Bill Hudson