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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Two Kane'ohe Marines killed in separate missions in Iraq

By Eloise Aguiar
Advertiser Windward O'ahu Writer

Cpl. Eric Lueken

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Staff Sgt. Jason Ramseyer

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KANE'OHE Two Hawai'i-based Marines were killed last week in separate incidents while on duty in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Jason C. Ramseyer, 28, of Lenoir, N.C., and Cpl. Eric Lueken, 23, of Dubois, Ind., were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawai'i.

Their families yesterday recalled the pride both men took in serving as Marines and how each had been eagerly making plans for the future.

Ramseyer was set to re-enlist in a post that would allow him to spend more time with his wife and two girls, ages 2 and 3. Lueken was engaged to marry upon return in October.

Lueken and Ramseyer were deployed to Iraq in March, nine months after returning from a deployment to Afghanistan that went from November 2004 to June 2005.

Lueken, a field radio operator, was mortally wounded Saturday by an improvised device while in a convoy. Ramseyer was on a foot patrol, said 2nd Lt. Binford Strickland of the Marine Corps base.

A total of 54 Marines and three sailors based at Kane'ohe Bay have been killed in the Middle East since 2004, Strickland said.

Mandy Ramseyer, 28, of Kailua, yesterday said her husband was killed Thursday after he got out of a vehicle to check on an object that appeared to be a roadside bomb.

"He was within 30 meters of it and he knew it was one but by the time he turned around to tell everyone to get back, someone with a remote detonator set it off," she said.

She said the seven-month deployment under way was to be her husband's last for a while. "The last time he called was two days before it happened, and he told me he had talked to a career planner about where we were going next and ... he wouldn't have to leave us again for four years," Ramseyer said. "He just seemed really happy and in high hopes."

PRIDE, HONOR, RESPECT

Jason Ramseyer, born in West Palm Beach, Fla., moved to Lenoir, N.C., when he was 12. He signed up to serve as a Marine in 1996 before graduating from high school, said his mother, Cindy Hicks of Claremont, N.C. She said her son graduated with honors and was among 20 students selected for the high school's hall of fame for students who excel and are proven leaders.

Hicks said her son's height about 5 feet, 7 inches spurred him to play hard in baseball, soccer, wrestling and other endeavors.

"He was a very fierce competitor and he wanted to make sure his size didn't make him any less of a person, athlete or Marine," she said. "He had no reservation about serving his country."

When he was heading for Afghanistan, she came to Hawai'i to see him off and recalled how he wanted his wife and mother to learn exactly how his medals should be placed on his uniform if he should die, Hicks recalled. He had a display box and had lined them up in the proper order, but neither his wife nor Hicks wanted to discuss the issue.

"He said, 'No you need to know where these go,' " she said. "It was very important to him. He had so much pride in his job, so much honor and so much respect."

'OUR FUTURE ... IS GONE'

Lueken graduated from high school in 2001 and decided to join the Marine Corps in 2003, according to The Herald in Jasper, Ind.

While growing up in a rural area, Lueken took life in stride, playing hard to win but never dwelling on losses, said his mother, Melinda Lueken. Serving in Afghanistan, however, changed his attitude about life and he was not taking it for granted anymore, she said.

The children there had touched his heart, she said. His father, Glenn Lueken, added that his son hated to see the way the children had to live.

Melinda Lueken said, "He wanted to achieve something for himself and he did." She added, "He was just a country boy who liked hunting and fishing but he wanted to do something with his life and he didn't want to always stick around here in the little town of Dubois."

Lueken's fiancee, Ericka Merkel, 21, said she and Lueken were childhood friends. Their relationship blossomed when he was in Afghanistan and she decided to e-mail him to see how he was doing.

"Our e-mails went from once a week to two to three times a week then to every day," she said. "By the time he came home, we were talking about dating."

Lueken sent flowers every month and thoughtful gifts, Merkel said.

"Once he joined the Marine Corps all of his needs, they were second," she said. "Everybody else's needs were first. He never put himself first. Even in Iraq he said: 'I'm praying for you.' He was never praying for himself."

Merkel said Lueken was a hero and she is proud of him.

"He always told me he wanted to be my superhero," she said, adding that they were planning to marry when he returned after the Iraq deployment and she then would have moved to Hawai'i. "It's hard because our future together is gone."

REMAINING COMMITTED

Lt. Col. Norm Cooling, commanding officer of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, also known as the "American Battalion," described both Ramseyer and Lueken as "very proficient and popular" Marines.

"To lose them in two separate missions and in two different areas, yet so closely together in time, makes it even more difficult for all of us. But we have a mission to do and they would want us to see it through," Cooling said yesterday by e-mail.

"We are committed to reducing violence in this area while creating self-sufficient Iraqi Security Forces to eventually take the place of Coalition Forces here. Our hearts and prayers go out to the Ramseyer and Lueken families," he said.

Reach Eloise Aguiar at eaguiar@honoluluadvertiser.com.