Remembering Lucas Frantz
Tonganoxie woman committed to honoring memory of husband-soldier who died in Iraq
Saturday morning's sun glinted off the gravestone of Cpl. Lucas Frantz.
Dozens of flags along the roads at Tonganoxie's Maple Grove Cemetery snapped in the wind. And other smaller flags, tucked in bouquets amid red, white and blue carnations and shasta daisies, unfurled beside Frantz's grave.
Frantz, who served in the U.S. Army, was killed by sniper fire Oct. 18, 2005 -- on his 22nd birthday -- in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. At his funeral, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Jacoby Jr., a two-star general in the U.S. Army, presented Frantz's military medals -- the Bronze Star and Purple Heart -- to his family.
The military tombstone reveals some of those details about Frantz, but little more. And that's just what, Frantz's widow, Kelly Frantz, planned.
"I wanted it to be like that so when people went there they could see the military side of him," Kelly said. "I can go, his mom can go, his family can go and we know what Lucas was as we knew him. But I wanted to honor how Lucas died, and what he was as a soldier, and I wanted people to see that."
At any rate, it's not a place Kelly feels compelled to visit.
"I don't go there often because I feel like he's with me all the time," Kelly said. "I go there for special occasions. Or sometimes I'll just go to say hi."
She noted the cemetery is east of U.S. Highway 24-40, south of Tonganoxie.
"I drive by Maple Grove Cemetery quite a bit," Kelly said. "I'll look over and blow him a kiss, or just say hi if I'm by myself."
But to Kelly, that's not really where her late husband is.
"He's all around me," the 24-year-old Kelly said quietly, her blue eyes crystal clear. "He's everywhere."
Her smile is back
"I'm finally starting to feel happy again," Kelly said. "It took a while. I know Lucas would be very happy to see a smile on my face."
But in the seven months since her husband died, happiness and sadness have been like guests who randomly dart in and out of one's life.
One of the hardest days, since the funeral, was the day a box of Lucas's belongings arrived.
"When I got all the possessions from Iraq, that was a really, really tough day," Kelly said.
She sorted through the assortment of CDs, DVDs, picture, a computer and Lucas's other personal belongings, another heartbreakingly sad reminder that the man she loved was gone.
Yet on even her worst days, Kelly said, she feels that Lucas lets her know he's still with her.
"The song that I played at his funeral, I don't hear it very often on the radio, but I've heard it a couple times -- it's been at very critical moments, so he's been here when I've needed him."
The song Kelly referred to is "Fix You," by Coldplay.
Promises to keep
After Lucas died, Kelly told him she would rebuild her life and strive to be happy again.
"I promised that when he died," Kelly said. "I sent him a letter and in that letter that was one of the things I wrote to him."
If only she could pick up the phone as when he was in Iraq, or send him an e-mail.
"That would be very nice," Kelly said. "Often times I just want to talk to him, to see what he's thinking about everything, see what he thinks about all of this and just the craziness that's been going on the past seven months."
When they were married, Kelly said, sometimes their days were so busy there wasn't much time to talk until they went to bed.
"I would talk, talk, talk," Kelly said. "I would lay there and I would talk to him, that's where I felt the most comfortable talking to him."
Though Kelly no longer can lay her head on her husband's shoulder, or whisper in his ear, those talks continue.
"I feel him with me. Yes I know he's right beside in everything that I do he puts me at ease," Kelly said. "I was so scared of life and since Lucas died I'm not scared anymore. I know I have to live my life and I know he'll watch over me. So I feel safe."
Though Kelly knew Lucas from school, she clearly recalls their first conversation.
They both worked at B&J Country Mart.
"We were sitting in the cat food aisle, stocking it, and I asked him about his haircut. He had a high and tight back then at 16 -- it was a military haircut," Kelly said.
Though she readily admitted that she made fun of his haircut, she grew to like it.
"That's what he had to have," Kelly said.
Unlike his no-nonsense haircut, Kelly said, her husband was easygoing.
And, he was a big guy, who plopped himself down on furniture with little thoughts of possible precarious results.
He broke his army cot in Iraq and a commander joked about needing to manufacture equipment that was "Frantz-proof."
During a real-time Web cam visit with Kelly's mother and sister, Pam and Andie Jeannin, last year when the Frantzes lived in Alaska where Lucas was stationed, the chair he was sitting in suddenly broke and dropped him to the floor.
Kelly's mother and sister were watching.
"They saw him just disappear and they were cracking up and I was laughing," Kelly said.
Kelly said she gladly would let Lucas put any furniture in her house to the "Frantz test" today.
She paused, smiling as her thoughts turned to her late husband.
"I miss everything, but probably his smile, his eyes, the most," Kelly said.
Tears welled in her blue eyes as she recalled her husband's hazel eyes, his wide smile.
"He was so happy," Kelly said. "He always had so much joy in his face and everything that he did -- just happy-go-lucky."
A summer trip
When Lucas was hit by sniper fire he had been in Iraq two months and one day.
Kelly last kissed her husband goodbye on Aug. 17, 2005, when she dropped him off at the barracks at Fort Wainwright. Lucas left that day for Iraq.
Kelly soon moved to Tonganoxie to live with her parents, Pam and Phil Jeannin, while Lucas was overseas.
His death changed things. In recent months, she's taken a job as a teller at First State Bank. She's bought a house. She's moving on with her life and enthusiastically said she plans, right now, to live the rest of her life in Tonganoxie.
And, she's planning a trip that could best be described as bittersweet. But to Kelly, who wants to make this trip in honor of her husband, it is necessary. In July, she will travel to Fairbanks, Alaska, to join her friends in welcoming the members of Lucas's troop when they return from Iraq.
"I want to go for Lucas," Kelly said. "I think it's going to be hard and there's so many memories."
Fairbanks always will be the place her marriage took root.
Lucas and Kelly were married July 16, 2003, in Leavenworth. Two days after they married, Lucas left for Alaska. Kelly followed that September, still, by anybody's definition, a newlywed.
"It was just the two of us, so we had our life there," Kelly said. "I think it will be good to see those guys again because they became my family, they're all my brothers and Lucas' brother, as well."
Communication with them has been sporadic since Lucas died.
"It's kind of hard to keep in touch with them, they're so far away, but we try our hardest," Kelly said.
While Memorial Day is a time when Americans are more likely to consider their loved ones, as well as those who have served, or died, in the military, Kelly said the holiday would be like most of her days.
"Every day is like that for me," Kelly said. "I will spend time with people who don't oftentimes get to think about, or remember, the soldiers. I'll be at the (Kansas Memorial Day) ceremony, but every day is remembering Lucas, every day that is what I do -- remember him."
Kelly sat at a desk in the bank where she works, leaning her cheek in her left hand, her blond hair framing her face. She paused, then added quietly, with a tilt of her chin -- a cheerful look of determination in her eyes: "I try to make him proud."