Archive for Wednesday, May 31, 2006

U.S. Army soldier reflects on stepson’s death

May 31, 2006

Editor's note: This story is about Spc. Timothy VanDruff, whose stepson, Cpl. Lucas Allen Frantz was killed by a sniper in Mosul, Iraq, on Oct. 18, 2005. VanDruff, a member of the 2nd Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, is serving in Iraq. Frantz, who served in the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, was a 2002 Tonganoxie High School graduate. He was married to Kelly Qualls Frantz, who lives in Tonganoxie.

By Spc. Rick Phelps

U.S. Army

CAMP SLAYER, Iraq

Fewer than seven months after a sniper ended his stepson's life, Spc. Timothy VanDruff of Rossville and formerly of Tonganoxie, who is currently deployed to Iraq with 2nd Battalion, 137th Infantry Regiment, 17th Field Artillery Brigade, attached to Multi-National Division -- Baghdad, opened up about his son's life and death and maintaining focus while in the country where his son paid the ultimate price.

October 19, 2005, is a day VanDruff says he will never forget.

"While we were at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California, we had just completed a training mission. When I got back to the tent, I had messages telling me I needed to call my wife, Lorrie," he explained. "I also had messages from my mom and my brother."

The phone call home turned out to be every parent's worst nightmare.

"Lorrie told me Lucas had been shot by a sniper and was killed," said VanDruff. The father of three, visibly upset, was escorted by his squad leader to see the chaplain.

"(The) first sergeant hugged me on the way to see the chaplain and told me everything was going to be OK and that they would get me home," said VanDruff.

Hatred came first

Spc. Lucas Allen Frantz died on his 22nd birthday, Oct. 18, 2005, in Mosul, Iraq. An infantryman assigned to the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 172nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, he was stationed at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, where he lived with his wife, Kelly.

Upon hearing the news, VanDruff said his initial reaction was hatred.

"I quickly began to hate the people of Iraq, but after I calmed down, I knew it wasn't everyone's fault ... just the insurgents'," said VanDruff.

The flight home was extremely difficult for VanDruff. "The flight from California to Kansas City was rough because I did not know how I was going to react when I saw my wife, knowing she was torn up because she had just lost her son. We had just lost our son," he said.

"I have never been that sad before. You expect to go home and it be a happy occasion. This time, it wasn't," said VanDruff.

Pride -- that was the word used by VanDruff to describe how he felt at his son's funeral.

"When I saw how many people showed up for Lucas' funeral, I was proud of the support shown by the community, state and this country," he said.

A difficult decision

After the funeral, VanDruff was forced to make a decision that would arguably be difficult for any soldier. The battalion afforded him the opportunity to either stay home with his family, or continue with mobilization training and deploy to Iraq.

"My wife and I talked and we agreed that if I stayed home, I wouldn't be able to live with myself," said VanDruff. "Lucas was over here doing something he believed in, and I wanted to finish what he started. I refuse to let my son's death be in vain."

Making the choice to go on with the deployment is one he stands by.

"Every day, I could wonder if I made the right choice by coming and leaving Lorrie and the kids at home, but second guessing has never been my style. All Lorrie said was 'Come back to me,'" said VanDruff.

Now, he said, "I (know I) am here for a reason, and I want to finish the mission."

VanDruff said a worldwide support system has made life in Iraq easier.

"It is OK because I know I have friends and other soldiers around me. I miss my family back home, but the support there, and here, makes it easier for me ... so that I can go home and put the pieces back together."

While looking at a photograph of Frantz, VanDruff recalled how his son towered over him.

"He was like 6-foot-4 and used to tease me about being shorter," VanDruff said. "I would tell him he was not bigger, it was just that I was getting shorter with age."

Calling up memories of years past, VanDruff laughed while explaining a particular incident.

"I got hurt at work one time and was on crutches," he said. "Lucas saw me about to go up the stairs. The next thing I knew, he was carrying me up."

Loving the Army

Frantz, a high school football stand-out and all-conference player at Tonganoxie High School, knew from a young age he wanted to be a soldier.

"He loved the Army. He grew up loving the Army," VanDruff explained. "He went to basic training between his junior and senior year in high school."

Like many other proud fathers, VanDruff continued to brag about his son.

"He was very energetic," he said. "As a son, he was always there when we needed him. He was a wonderful, good kid. There is no other way to put it."

VanDruff said, "It was kind of a double whammy. Not only did I lose a son, but I also lost someone who had been my best friend for a long time."

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