- - Monday, May 18, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In an age of celebrity worship, when the public drapes the mantle of heroism on rock stars, film goddesses and the giants of sport who haven’t done anything to earn it, it’s easily forgotten that true heroes are those who risk all, including their very lives, for the sake of others. American servicemen and women fit that description, stepping fearlessly into the shadow of the valley of death.

Capt. Dustin Lukasiewicz, 28, USMC, was on a mission of mercy when his UH-1 Huey helicopter crashed in the remote mountains of Nepal. With five other Marines and two Nepalese soldiers, he was delivering food, blankets and medicine to villages cut off from civilization by the two devastating earthquakes that hit that south-Asian nation over the past three weeks. Capt. Christopher L. Norgren of Kansas, Sgt. Ward M. Johnson IV of Florida, Sgt. Eric M. Seaman of California, Cpl. Sara A. Medina of Illinois and Lance Cpl. Jacob A. Hug of Arizona died with him.

Capt. Lukasiewicz, from Nebraska, was the father of one with another on the way. He was serving with Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 469 based at Camp Pendleton, California. The squadron had traveled to the Philippines for a training mission when it got a call to fly to Nepal as part of a 300-member military aid mission, following a 7.8 magnitude quake of April 25. Eight thousand Nepalese died. Dozens more died when the second one, a 7.3 magnitude temblor, struck last week.

More than 160,000 Americans serve in more than 150 countries across the globe. That’s a broad footprint and U.S. military is a welcome sight in places where evildoers stalk the land. The U.S. military isn’t all about killing people and blowing up things. Not all of the $612 billion budget that passed the House of Representative last week is for buying and maintaining weapons. An $89.2 billion piece of it is reserved for “overseas contingency operations,” which includes money to enable soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines to go to the aid of the endangered, the sick and the needy everywhere on the globe.

President Obama, speaking at a memorial service of the National Peace Officers Association at the U.S. Capitol, expressed the nation’s condolences to the families of those who died in Nepal. The Marines, he said, “represent a truth that guides our work around the world: When our friends are in need, America helps.”

Investigators are at work now to identify the cause of the tragedy. No one need wonder, though, how the crew of the Marines regarded their job of traveling halfway around the world to help the families whose names they would never know. Capt. Lukasiewicz appears in a Marine Corps video describing the deployment, posted online shortly before the relief mission went aloft. “My name is Captain Lukasiewicz,” he says, “and we stand with Nepal.”

An epitaph sometimes says everything that needs to be said to describe a man’s life. In a single moment, a young Marine declared a noble cause with an economy of words that says it all. It’s not true that “only the good die young,” but it often, as with Captain Lukasiewicz and his fellow Marines, can seem that way. They meet the definition of “hero,” and their time on Earth made it a better place. RIP.

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