Family: Marine’s death 'never gets any easier’

Photos by Dave Weatherwax/The Herald
Brent Lueken of Dubois was recognized as the 2012 Indiana Tree Farmer of the Year for the dedication and work he has put into his 69-acre tree farm in Martin County. Brent has conducted the work to manage the farm, which he does in honor of his brother, fallen Marine Cpl. Eric Lueken, who died April 22, 2006, while deployed in Iraq. While Eric was on leave from his service in Iraq, he told their father, Jake, that if he were to not make it home, he wanted his father to purchase land for a tree farm in Brent’s name.

Herald Staff Writer

DUBOIS — It was seven years ago Monday that Cpl. Eric Lueken was killed in battle in Iraq.
For the Marine’s family, it feels like it happened just yesterday.

“It never gets any easier,” Eric’s dad, Jake Lueken, said Thursday evening.

As police searched for answers in the Boston Marathon bombing last week, Lueken’s thoughts went to what could happen if it was the work of terrorists. “If we find out that terrorists did that, we could be bombing tomorrow or in a ground war next week,” he said. “And then you’re going to  have more young boys fighting.”

He paused. “Lots of things bring it back up. No, it doesn’t get any easier.”

On Monday, which was also Earth Day, Crane Division, Naval Support Activity renamed its natural resources building the Corporal Eric Lueken, USMC Memorial Facility. Last year, a hunt was held on Crane’s land in memory of Eric, who was an avid hunter; he bagged his first turkey at age 13, Jake said.

A sign naming the 69-acre tree farm in Martin County honors fallen Marine Cpl. Eric Lueken, who the farm is named in honor of.

Eric’s younger brother, Brent, manages a 69-acre tree farm in Martin County in Eric’s memory. Because of his dedication to the farm, Brent was named 2012 Indiana Tree Farmer of the Year. He received the honor in March.

Brent, now 26, is also getting married. He and his fiancée, Megan Stemle, will wed in September.
Life continues. So does the grief.

“You have to go on, but it never gets any easier,” Eric’s mother, Melinda, said. “He is on our minds every day.”

The family tries to keep whatever attention that comes their way focused on Eric and his service.

“We appreciate all the support we receive,” Jake said. “This is a military community, the county is.”

Jake is the most vocal of the family and tends to be the spokesperson. Melinda and Brent prefer to stay in the background. Jake is protective of them and does what he can to make sure they are as comfortable as possible in public situations. At the same time, he wants to make sure they have an opportunity to talk about Eric too, which they do a little bit. More often, though, they choose to do what they can to honor their fallen hero without words.

Jake and Melinda’s home near Dubois is filled with photographs and mementos of Eric and his military service. Eric served his first tour of duty in Afghanistan from November 2004 to June 2005. He was on his second tour when he died.

A sign that reads "Camp Lueken" is hung on the tree farm property. It was originally erected in Iraq soon after Marine Cpl. Eric Lueken's death. His comrades brought it back to the United States and gave it to the Luekens.

A drawing of Eric sketched by fellow Marine Michael Reagan, former president Ronald Reagan’s son, hangs on the wall near a painting of Eric that was created by a West Coast artist. An Evansville artist carved a portrait of Eric from wood and that sits on a shelf with Eric’s medals and honors. A memorial bench and wind chimes grace the Luekens’ well-manicured yard.
And then there’s the tree farm.

The farm itself has been enrolled in the Tree Farm Program, a national forest management program coordinated by the American Forest Institute, since 1967. It has been in the Lueken family since 2007 and is now named the Corporal Eric Lueken Memorial Forest. It was purchased by Eric’s request.

While Eric was home on leave from his service in Iraq, he and Jake took a ride in the countryside one day. Eric started talking to his dad about his wishes should he not make it back home.
“He said that if he didn’t come back, he wanted us to purchase land for a tree farm in Brent’s name,” Jake recalled. “Eric and Brent loved the outdoors, so it made sense that he would want something like that.”

That’s exactly what the Luekens did.

Brent takes as much time as he can to care for the tree farm, going there three to four times a week. “I do some maintenance work around there,” he said. “I go up there to hunt some or to just to be outside there.”

White and red oak and white pine trees are grown on the land. Using bridges and culverts, Brent has improved the access trails on the land, which helped maintain the water quality and reduce erosion. He weeded out defective trees last year to support the growth of the other trees.

The Luekens hosted a forestry field day in 2011 in honor of Louie Lueken, Jake’s dad, whose tree farm was being recognized that year for being in the tree farm program for 50 years. Brent also has hosted Boy Scout outings on the land.

Brent Lueken unloaded his ATV off the trailer outside of the cabin on his 69-acre tree farm in Martin County on April 13. Brent spends a few days a week out at the farm doing work and enjoying the outdoors.

All this work and his dedication to forest management is what led to Brent receiving the Indiana Tree Farmer of the Year award, said Adam Diamond, district forester for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry.

Along with the sign identifying the memorial forest, another sign that reads “Camp Lueken” sits on the property. It originally was erected in Iraq soon after Eric’s death. His comrades brought it back to the United States and gave it to the Luekens.

With the tree farm and the renamed natural resources building, Eric’s memory is preserved publicly, which the Luekens appreciate.

But the reason for the recognitions is still painful.

“It’s hard to lose your son. And he was out firstborn,” Jake said. “The support we’ve gotten has helped. But no matter what, it will always be hard to deal with this.”

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