Archive for Wednesday, November 2, 2005

Community bids soldier farewell

November 2, 2005

Capt. Heath Hartsock called roll. Hartsock announced the names of two Army soldiers from Fort Wainwright, Alaska, one a sergeant, the other a specialist.

Both answered.

"Cpl. Frantz."


Silence.

"Cpl. Lucas Frantz."

Silence.

"Cpl. Lucas Allen Frantz."

Heart-breaking silence.

The last roll call is a tradition at funerals for members of the military.

On Thursday, Cpl. Lucas Allen Frantz was honored at Veterans of Foreign Wars Park in Tonganoxie. Frantz was killed Oct. 18 -- his 22nd birthday -- while serving the U.S. Army in Mosul, Iraq.

Nearly 500 people gathered at VFW Park to honor Frantz, an Army specialist who posthumously was promoted to corporal. Many members of the military -- both active duty and veterans -- attended.

The Rev. Ben Saathoff of Tonganoxie Christian Church spoke to family and friends gathered near a large rock in the park, where Lucas Frantz and his wife, Kelly, had planned to renew their wedding vows after he returned from the service.

Flowers covered the rock, and a collage of pictures stood on a nearby easel.

Saathoff spoke extensively about what Frantz meant to his family and his friends, to his community and his country.

"The facts in the obituary do not explain what Lucas really was," Saathoff said.

To his wife, he could be a romantic. Saathoff read words Kelly had written. She recounted a cold night in December, two months after they started dating. They were in the driveway near Kelly's house.

"I turned, and he pulled me into his arms and danced with me on the ice," Kelly had written. "It was one of the most beautiful moments in my life."

Saathoff also told those gathered about the night Frantz proposed to Kelly. He planned to propose to her on the Tonganoxie High School track -- where they walked laps until 3 a.m. the night of their first date. Because of inclement weather, though, Frantz decided to propose at Kelly's house after she returned home that night. He called Kelly's family "every five minutes" to make sure everything was in order in the family's living room. Frantz arrived at the house before Kelly and instructed her family to keep her occupied until the moment was right to propose.

Saathoff said that Frantz's future in-laws, Pam and Phil Jeannin recalled: "Lucas was officially going to be in our family, and that night will never be forgotten."

Kelly, whom Frantz married on July 16, 2003, in Leavenworth also spoke during the funeral.

She said she would love Lucas each day more than she did the day before.

"I will miss him deeply," she said.

The song "Fix You," by Coldplay, was played in Lucas' memory. It was a song that Kelly said originally was from her to Frantz, but she said, "I feel it's for all of us now."

Like a brother

Mitchell McGinnis also spoke about Frantz, one his best friends.

"Lucas was more than a friend, he was like a brother," McGinnis said. "He was always there to protect you."

McGinnis that he and his friend got into their fair share of mischief, but that Frantz was a good person.

He described Frantz as a juggernaut on the football field, as as well as an excellent student and craftsman.

The friends even shed tears together while watching "Gladiator."

"We quickly wiped it away because we were tough," McGinnis said with a smile.

In the end, McGinnis said his friend always will be with his family and friends.

"You will always be with us in our hearts and souls," McGinnis said. ''... He was always there to support the ones he cared for ... a shining star in the eyes of all of his friends."

McGinnis also played a song that paid tribute to Frantz.

Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Simple Man" resonated through the park as a brisk wind from the north suddenly rustled leaves of a nearby cottonwood tree. Three red-tailed hawks soared in the clear-blue noon sky.

Before the ceremony concluded, Saathoff again spoke about Tonganoxie's fallen soldier.

"Lucas has made an indelible mark on many people," Saathoff said. "Sometimes we don't think about what we have until we lose it."

He also said that Frantz service to his fellow Americans was important.

"There was purpose in what he did," Saathoff said. "Understand he did not die in vain. And we're reminded more now than ever before the price of freedom."

Paying tribute

A row of honor lined both sides of a sidewalk leading from the north side of the park, past the VFW's Army tank and war memorial.

Members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines all lined the sidewalk, as did VFW members.

Members of the Tonganoxie Fire Department also were on hand, positioning fire trucks at the north and south ends of the park. One of the trucks, its ladder raised 60 feet into the air, had an American flag atop the ladder.

Of all the military members attending the funeral, none had a higher rank than Maj. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., a two-star general in the U.S. Army.

"One of the most interesting things to me and actually the most surprising thing was that Gen. Jacoby came," said VFW Post Commander Larry Meadows. "I don't think that would have happened 10 years ago. That's a new twist for a general to come to a memorial service and graveside service."

Meadows shared thoughts as to why higher-ranking officials might attend funerals.

"I think maybe the fact that it's an unpopular war in some people's eyes and those commanders show that they care," Meadows said.

VFW members from as close as Basehor and as distant as Marysville participated in the row of honor, which Meadows referred to as honorary pallbearers.

Ed Guydos of Marysville, a VFW district commander, said, "You couldn't ask for a better tribute" to a fallen soldier.

According to Meadows, a Tonganoxie resident hadn't been killed in action since the Korean War, which took place from 1950 to 1953.

Guydos said Frantz's death certainly makes residents take note of the situation in Iraq.

"It brings awareness that the war is going on and that our troops are in harm's way," Guydos said.

Frantz was a member of the 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team stationed in Fort Wainwright, Alaska. He was an infantryman and Stryker vehicle commander assigned to Company A, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry. The team left in August for Iraq.

At the park, members of the military gave to Frantz's family the Bronze Star that had been awarded him for service and the Purple Heart awarded for wounds he received in action.

Football team's salute

Tonganoxie paid its respects to Frantz on Thursday afternoon at the funeral services, but the Tonganoxie football team continued to remember Frantz on the football field that night.

The Chieftains, playing against Perry-Lecompton in Perry, wore No. 69 decals on their helmets. Frantz's No. 69 jersey and number were retired Oct. 21 in a pregame ceremony at Beatty Field. Players wore the decals during that game and will continue wearing the number into the playoffs.

For the Oct. 21 game, all of Frantz's teammates who graduated with him were in attendance, except for two -- Ryan McWilliams and Josh Ferris. McGinnis said they are in the Navy and are stationed at Virginia Beach, Va.

"They sent their best regards obviously," McGinnis said. "But they couldn't be there. They were fighting for their country as well."

A father's memories

Frantz's father, Gary Frantz, said this week that he was impressed with all the ceremonies conducted in Tonganoxie in his son's honor.

"It was really emotional and the town of Tonganoxie did a real fine job," the elder Frantz said. "Thank you to everyone who came out to support him. I was really moved.

"You guys need to be proud of your town, that's what I'm trying to say. You just need to be really proud of this town."

He said the funeral was touching as well.

"It was a perfect day. Kelly's speech was real heartwarming."

As he talked about his son, Frantz remembered something from Lucas' childhood.

"He used to be a real Lego-maniac," he said. "And we have all his Legos from when he was a kid."

Pickets and counter protests

A group of protesters from Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka loaded themselves into two vans and left Tonganoxie at noon, as the service for Frantz began a half-block away.

The group, which contends that deaths of soldiers in Iraq are God's punishment to America because of homosexuality, held signs and stomped on an American flag during their hour-long protest.

The church is led by the Rev. Fred Phelps, who has picketed across the country against homosexuality.

Randy Barnes and about 10 other members of the Kansas City chapter of Vietnam Veterans of America staged a counter-protest.

"We came down to pay our respects to Lucas, and to make sure those idiots don't interfere with anything," Barnes said of the Westboro Church members.

Barnes, who served from 1968 to 1969 in Vietnam as a combat medic, said he supported church members' freedom of speech.

But he added that picketing at a U.S. soldier's funeral is too much to stomach.

"That's it," he said. "We draw the line."

Joining Barnes' group in a show of support against the Westboro Church picketers were about 150 military veterans on motorcycles, who held American flags as they stood across the street with their backs to the picketers.

Soon after, several Tonganoxie area residents unfurled a 10- by 50-foot tarp that they held up. The tarp, which blocked the picketers view of the service, said, "God loves you, Lucas, and so do we the people of the USA." It also had an American flag affixed to it.

"There's a time and a place for everything," said Adam Bryant, adding that he and others were so upset by the church members' planned protest that they were compelled to make the huge sign.

"It's just a disgrace," he said about the church members.

Tonganoxie Police Chief Kenny Carpenter said he was thankful the protests were peaceful.

"Both sides behaved themselves," he said, after the church members left Tonganoxie with a police escort. "That makes me happy. The town still showed a lot of support for the soldiers, and that's important."

Flags lining the way

The same motorcyclists who stood silently during the counter-protest against the Topeka church members lined Fourth Street during the procession to Maple Grove Cemetery.

A Tonganoxie Fire Department truck led the procession through downtown to the cemetery. Frantz had been a volunteer with the department.

The route of the procession was lined with hundreds of American flags that members of the Tonganoxie Veterans of Foreign Wars post had placed, in honor of Frantz.

At the cemetery, members of the U.S. Army conducted graveside services, including a 21-gun salute and Tonganoxie High School trumpeter Megan Holton playing "Taps."

Working silently, a three-member Army honor guard inspected an American flag before they presented it to Frantz's widow, Kelly.

The small box holding Frantz's remains were placed inside a casket, along with reminders of the fallen soldier, including a football, a small football helmet and photographs.

Kelly Frantz kissed her right hand and touched the top of her husband's casket, in one last goodbye.

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