A new “Uncle Dusty” flag will fly as a companion to an American flag at Cheryl Schepker’s Axtell home.
At the Wilcox Lions Hall Saturday, Honor and Remember Nebraska Chapter volunteers presented a special flag for fallen heroes to the family of Marine Capt. Dustin Lukasiewicz, a 2003 graduate of Wilcox-Hildreth High School who died May 12, 2015, during a humanitarian mission to help earthquake victims in Nepal.
His parents are Keith Lukasiewicz of Farwell and Schepker.
A report issued after a Marine Corps investigation said two factors probably were involved in the fatal accident: a decision by the crew to take an unfamiliar, although more direct, route from a remote village to Kathmandu while transporting critically injured people and rapidly changing weather conditions that enveloped the helicopter in clouds or rising air currents that lifted it into the clouds.
The weather caused the pilots to lose sight of the terrain, and the helicopter hit the ground, the report said.
Earlier the same day, the crew had delivered supplies and rescued three other injured Nepalese.
“I don’t know if I will fly it all the time,” Schepker said about the red and white Honor and Remember Flag that features a gold star, flame, folded American flag and Dusty’s name, “ ... but definitely on special occasions, like his (June 17) birthday.”
“The American flag is up every day at home. Brooklyn calls it Uncle Dusty’s flag,” she added.
Brooklyn is the 4-year-old daughter of Dusty’s sister Nicole and her husband Derek Ingram of Minden. The two dozen family members at Saturday’s ceremony also included older sister Danielle Kersten of Grand Island.
Dusty’s wife, Ashley; daughter, Isabelle, 4; and son, Dustin Mark, born June 10, 2015, a month after his father’s death and four days after his funeral, did not travel from their Florida home.
Keith Lukasiewicz said he visited Ashley and his grandchildren there two weeks ago and also attended a ceremony at the Marine Aviation Bell Tower in Pensacola that honored Dusty’s crew and several other Marines who recently lost their lives. Pensacola is where Dusty earned his wings as a UH-1Y Huey helicopter pilot.
Honor and Remember Nebraska Chapter Director Jim Meier of Waterloo and Secretary John Adams of Papillion said most flags are requested by family members or their friends.
“We also search for them (families),” Adams said, explaining that the flags honor military service members who died in all conflicts. “A lot of it is word of mouth. A lot of times it’s at things like this where we meet another Gold Star family.”
Schepker said she was invited to the May 2016 Honor and Remember annual event in Omaha and also knew about the flag from a lunch friend. They often meet with two other Kearney area women of have “lost a soldier.”
Each $350 flag is sponsored. Adams said, Gold Star families who receive flags often fund flags for other families.
His business, DWF, a flower wholesaler in LaVista, sponsored Dusty’s flag. Adams brought Schepker a bouquet of roses.
The Honor and Remember website says the flag project was initiated by George Anthony Lutz. After his son was killed by a sniper Dec. 29, 2005, while on patrol in Fallujah, Iraq, Lutz learned there was no universally recognized symbol to acknowledge American service members who never made it home. So he created one.
Unlike triangle-folded American flags that are presented to families at funerals and retired, Honor and Remember flags are meant to be displayed on appropriate days to remind people that someone paid the price for how Americans live. Adams said that’s why the name of the fallen hero, date of death and place are embroidered on the bottom.
“The family never forgets,” he added. “It’s up to us as a nation to hold those memories as well.”
Although it is known that 42 million-plus people have served during the 83 wars-conflicts since the United States was born and more than 1.3 million have died, Meier said it is impossible to know how many people are part of Gold Star families directly affected by those deaths.
“Dusty has a story. Dusty’s story continues to be in your heart and your head ... It’s also your story,” he told Dusty’s family.
After describing the last mission for Dusty and his helicopter crew to help people they didn’t know in a faraway country, Meier used a quote by President Ronald Reagan, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they made a difference in the world. But the Marines don’t have that problem.”
Keith Lukasiewicz said Saturday’s flag ceremony was special and “they honored Dusty very well.”
However, the healing process continues.
“Somebody told me it takes two years,” Schepker said. “I don’t think so. It’s a long road. It’s a bumpy road.”