Steve Lanier didn’t care about the house, only the potential shop.
When he moved to Lady’s Island three years ago, he gutted his garage and built a woodworker’s haven to feed his passion. The retired aerospace engineer often crafts pieces to give away.
And so when approached with the chance to replace a memorial bench stolen from a 6-year-old boy’s Beaufort grave, he went to work.
“Those of us who will be participating in it wanted to let him know this is all about James,” Lanier said. “We wanted to let him know there are those of us who care and want to have his back. I’m still so angry as to someone stooping so low as to steal that bench. It infuriates me.”
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James McDiffett built the original bench to honor his son, James Jr., who died in an accident near his home in 2014. The bench was painted red, white and blue and included the crest of the U.S. Army 14th Infantry Regiment
He reported the bench missing in December, stolen from James’ graveside at Anderson Funeral Home.
McDiffett served in the Army, and his son had talked of becoming an Army Ranger. The boy raised and lowered the U.S. flag in the yard of his Grays Hill home.
Keith Landry, a retired U.S. Army colonel and Ranger who grew up in Beaufort, saw the news reports and contacted Lanier about building the replacement. The men consulted with McDiffett on the design details.
Lanier built the bench from white oak and loblolly pine salvaged after Hurricane Matthew. Part of a Bible verse from the Old Testament book of Isaiah will be engraved on the back, the same words as are on James’ headstone: “And a child shall lead them.”
The bench is a work in progress and the result of almost 30 years of Lanier honing his hobby. He’s taken weekslong furniture building classes in Maine and learned from noted woodcarver Mary May.
His niche is reproducing 18th-century furniture. A buffet he crafted himself sits in his living room and a small student’s desk sits in his shop, waiting to be auctioned to benefit Alzheimer’s Family Services of Greater Beaufort.
Lanier removed the clamps on James’ bench Wednesday to show the slats were fitted to the frame with mortise and tenon joints. He is in the process of sanding and painting the white oak.
Landry and retired Brig. Gen. Barney Forsythe helped secure some Army pins that will become part of the bench’s final design.
“I know it’s not the actual bench you made but it would give me great joy to help you and your son,” Landry wrote McDiffett after the news of his stolen bench in January.