View Full Version : A special tribute on Memorial Day

05-27-07, 07:11 AM
A special tribute on Memorial Day
Brimfield Twp. parents observe holiday knowing their son `helped keep Americans alive'
By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

BRIMFIELD TWP. - Page B3 for list of services, parades

Until they learned their son had been killed in Iraq, Wesley and Julie Emch never really knew what he was doing in the war.

The parents of Navy Hospitalman Lucas ``Luke'' Wesley Albert Emch thought their son was working in a field hospital as a corpsman.

What he actually was doing was working with the 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, 1st Marine Logistics Group Forward, responding to reports of explosives, searching for roadside bombs and other such devices, defusing them and disposing of them.

``He didn't want us to worry,'' his mother reasoned.

On March 2, a device that his unit had thought was successfully defused blew up from a secondary fuse, killing 21-year-old Emch and 28-year-old Marine Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Gould of Colorado.

Wesley and Julie Emch attended Memorial Day wreath-laying services at the Ohio Statehouse on Friday and will attend another service at 3 p.m. today at the Ohio Western Reserve National Cemetery in Rittman, where their son is buried.

For the Emches, less than three months after their son's death, Memorial Day has taken on new meaning.

Earlier this month, they spent several days at Camp Pendleton, Calif., visiting Marines and Navy corpsmen who served with their son and returned home in March.

Emch was killed two hours before his unit was to have completed its final mission.

Last week, inside their home on a wooded lot in Portage County, the Emches turned on their son's laptop computer, which they received after his death, and clicked through images of his final months and days.

Wes Emch, a 52-year-old Cuyahoga Falls High School microbiology, genetics and biology teacher -- wearing a dark ball cap with the words ``Doc Emch'' inscribed on the front -- and 55-year-old Julie Emch, a science and math teacher at Tallmadge Middle School, focused on the videos and photographs their son shot in Iraq.

There were dramatic images of caches of weapons found by their son and his comrades and videos of bombs being detonated.

There were photos of their son and two other corpsmen, playfully posing for the camera.

Navy corpsmen are medics who serve alongside Marines.

At Pendleton, they gathered more photographs and learned of the heroism shown by their son -- a son they called Lukey.

In the case of the bomb that killed him, they were told that after the initial fuse was removed, the unit decided it should be moved to another location to be detonated because it was too close to homes, Wes Emch said.

So Marine Gould picked up the device and was taking it to the back of the Cougar truck where Luke Emch was sitting when it exploded, probably as a result of a secondary fuse, his father said.

``They didn't want to detonate it in place for fear of injuring civilians in the houses,'' he said.

Their son -- a 2004 Tallmadge High School graduate -- was a student at the University of Akron in 2005 when he felt a call to action, and joined the Navy, as had his grandfather, Wesley Emch Sr., a World War II submariner. His other grandfather, Albert Schroeder, served in the Army Air Corps during World War II.

Emch Jr. said his son had seen a news broadcast about the death of two Marines in Iraq who had joined the service for college benefits. ``He said, `I feel guilty,' '' his father said.

The Emches had saved for college for their children and so Luke did not have to worry about the cost of college.

``He said, `I have to do something,' '' his father recalled.

And so, even though Luke Emch was opposed to the war in Iraq, as were his parents, his father said he joined the Navy to be a corpsman and work with Marines.

Initially, he was in the Navy Reserve and was assigned to the Akron Weapons Company, the Marine unit that meets on Dan Street and served in Iraq in 2005.

But after a few months, his father said, his son decided he wanted to go to active duty.

``He wanted to save the Marines,'' his mother said.

He went into active duty in May 2006, and left for Iraq in late August 2006.

``These guys are courageous,'' his father said. ``Can you imagine walking up to something sticking up partially out of the ground that could contain 100 pounds of high explosives that you don't know for sure how it is set up? You don't know if there is a wire going off someplace that will trigger it while you are leaning over it and blow you to kingdom come.''

Emch said he wants Americans to know of the work his son and his comrades did and still do in Iraq.

``They go to that which everyone else stays away from,'' he said.

Nobody, the father said, really knows about the work of the explosive ordnance disposal Marines, sailors, airmen and soldiers.

``They hear an IED went off and killed four Americans,'' he said, ``but they don't know about the 40 that didn't go off because of these guys or the 400 Americans that are walking around alive.

``The only thing that is keeping me sane right now is knowing he helped keep Americans alive over there.''
Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or jcarney@thebeaconjournal.com.