'A somber event': Marine killed while on Nepal relief mission comes home to Nebraska
By Steve Liewer / World-Herald staff writer
A fallen Marine has come home to Nebraska.
The body of Capt. Dustin R. Lukasiewicz arrived at Omaha’s Eppley Airfield late Monday afternoon, his casket draped in the American flag.
Lukasiewicz, 29, of Wilcox, died two weeks ago when the UH-1Y Huey helicopter he was flying crashed in Nepal on a military mission to deliver relief supplies to rural villages devastated by a series of earthquakes. Five other U.S. Marines and two Nepalese soldiers also were killed.
Firetrucks from the central Nebraska towns of Elba, St. Paul and Farwell — home to many members of Lukasiewicz’s large extended family, including his father, Keith — met Delta Flight 1582, which brought the Marine’s body home. So did two units from the Howard County Sheriff’s Office.
Marching in lockstep, white-gloved Marine pallbearers placed the coffin on a cart near the jet.
Marines escorted family members to the casket singly or in pairs: first, Lukasiewicz’s widow, Ashley, who bent her head low as if to kiss him. Then his parents and other relatives, who paused for a few minutes each.
Dozens of passengers on the flight from Atlanta watched the rarely seen drama. Earlier, their pilot had asked the passengers to let Lukasiewicz’s Marine escort leave the aircraft first.
“It’s kind of a somber event,” said Steve Lind of Kearney.
Emily Bachman, a 21-year-old nursing student from Lincoln, said she couldn’t help thinking about her brother, who is in the Air Force. She had never seen anything like the ceremony on the tarmac.
“It really puts things into perspective,” Bachman said. “There are people out there fighting for us who are closer to home than we realize.”
Steven Caver, the stepfather of a Navy pilot, watched the ceremony before leaving on a Dallas flight with his wife, Janice. “I think everyone should see one of these,” he said.
The Marine honor guard carried the casket to a hearse for the 135-mile journey to St. Paul. Fire-and-rescue agencies along the route in David City, Rising City and Brainard planned to line Highway 92 in their towns to pay tribute to Lukasiewicz.
The Wahoo and Cedar Bluffs volunteer fire departments set up their aerial trucks so that a large flag could be suspended over the route.
“He’s a soldier of ours,” said Michael Higgins, a training officer from the Elba Fire Department, who was one of the escorts. “We’re from a small town. So it’s to show the respect and support him, and his father, who served in our department.”
The procession was joined by Patriot Riders and American Legion motorcycle riders along the way.
And Mike McCann, a friend and relative of Lukasiewicz, said residents in St. Paul were planning a large roadside greeting.
“It has been a trying two weeks,” McCann said in an email, “and this week will be especially hard.”
Becky Rabe of Lincoln was gathered with others at First and Chestnut Streets in Wahoo. For seven years, Rabe was Lukasiewicz’s stepmom.
Before the procession went by, she said it was of some comfort to know that people came out to support someone they didn’t even know.
“It’s absolutely incredible,” she said.
Lukasiewicz was born June 17, 1985, in Kearney and grew up on a farm near Wilcox. He was a 2003 graduate of Wilcox-Hildreth High School and a 2007 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where he was active in ROTC. He was commissioned in 2008 and earned his pilot’s wings two years later.
Lukasiewicz was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and to the western Pacific last November. He arrived in Nepal with other members of Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469, based in Camp Pendleton, California.
Lukasiewicz and his wife, Ashley, have a daughter, Isabelle, and are expecting a son later this month. He also is survived by his father, Keith Lukasiewicz of Farwell; mother, Cheryl Schepker and her husband, Kris, of Axtell; four grandparents or step-grandparents; and two sisters, Danielle Kersten of Grand Island and Nicole Ingram of Minden.
Services are scheduled for Saturday in the St. Paul High School gymnasium. Lukasiewicz will be buried with full military honors at St. Anthony’s Cemetery near Farwell.
This report includes material from the World-Herald News Service.