Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2004 | 11:10 a.m.
John Lukac had convinced his Czechoslovakian parents to let him sign up for the Marines when he was only 17 and still a student at Durango High School.
"We all tried to talk him out of it," his mother, Helena Lukac, said. "But he said, 'I love this country so much I'm ready to die for it.' "
On Saturday the 19-year-old Las Vegas resident made that ultimate sacrifice for his nation.
When his only brother, 15-year-old Peter Lukac, peered through the peephole on the front door and told his mother what he saw, "four Marines, all dressed up ... We looked at each other, and you know right there we knew what was going on," he said.
John Lukac died around 1:40 p.m. Saturday as the result of an explosion in the Al Anbar province, according to a military summary of the incident given to the Las Vegas family.
He was one of eight Marines killed and nine injured in an attack during what Marine officials called "increased security operations" in the province. The province, a suburb of Fallujah, was the scene of fierce fighting Saturday, with Marine air and artillery hitting enemy mortar positions.
Officials with Marine public affairs said that they could not comment on the details of the incident, but National Public Radio and other media outlets were reporting that a car bomb that exploded in the midst of a Marine convoy caused the deaths.
Peter Lukac said although they don't know for sure what killed his brother, he figured it was a car bomb because his brother and his comrades had been setting up and manning checkpoints.
Lukac was the seventh military member from Nevada killed in Iraq, Kuwait or Afghanistan since fighting began in the Middle East in late 2001. An Arkansas airman stationed at Nellis Air Force Base was also killed last month in Afghanistan. At least 1,122 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to the Associated Press.
In John Lukac's case, he had wanted to be a soldier since he was as young as 11, his family said.
Two months after graduating from Durango in 2003, Lukac went to boot camp.
On Monday night his father, Jan Lukac, said even if he could do it all over again, he would still help his son become a Marine.
Lukac, who fled from the former Czechoslovakia with his wife in 1983, said he was in the Czechoslovakian army for two years, so he told his son what he thought the good and bad points of military life were.
"But he said, 'I'm going to fight for the United States, for freedom.' We paid a high price, but if people ask me if I would do it one more time, I would do it because it was his dream," the grieving father said. "He did what he liked. It was his dream."
The family has lived in Las Vegas for the past three years. Prior to that they had lived in Los Angeles.
John Lukac loved computers and playing video games, friends and family said. He liked to play basketball with friends, and enjoyed going to the desert with his brother and father for some target shooting.
Lukac's best friend Joe Fico said he and Lukac went bowling at the Orleans so often the employees there knew them both by name.
"He was pretty much your typical 19-year-old," Fico said. "His friends were always first in line, and he loved his family. He especially loved his little brother. His little brother meant the world to him."
But for most of the last year, the world took John away from Peter. Lukac was moved around the Pacific, among Hawaii, Japan and Guam, then went to Kuwait. About three weeks ago Lukac's unit went into Iraq.
Lukac's last visit home was in June and coincided with his girlfriend's 18th birthday.
Samantha Fico, Lukac's girlfriend and Joe's sister, said that on her birthday she had a little too much to drink and John took care of her.
"He was always the responsible one," she said. He was "always the one who didn't drink so everyone else could party and he would drive everyone home."
While he was overseas, Lukac still called his family whenever he could. The last call came about three weeks ago. Lukac told his family that he loved them and would be careful, they said.
He also e-mailed his brother from time to time.
"He said that when he got back we'd go paint-balling," Peter Lukac said.
"I always asked him if he had friends over there and he said that everyone's nice and that they are like brothers to him," he said.
Peter said his brother never wrote of dangerous situations. "He didn't want everyone to worry," he said.
"I knew he was in danger. But it was the last thing in my mind that he would pass away."
"Unfortunately it was the wrong time in the wrong place," Jan Lukac said, adding: "They didn't kill my son. They killed a whole family."
The loss has changed Helena Lukac's opinion of the war in Iraq.
"Because of this loss I don't think was worth it for me. Before I really felt like they are really poor people that need help," she said. "But why, why is the whole world against us, and we are there to help?"
Helena Lukac said maybe there has got to be a better way to resolve the problems in Iraq.
Jan Lukac, however, said he still supports the war.
"It's the right thing to do and I'm going to support them," he said.
But regardless of their feelings on the war, the family said they are proud of their Marine son.
"He's a hero," Helena Lukac said. "He tried to make a difference in people's lives."
Gunnery Sgt. Claudia LaMantia, spokeswoman for Marine Corps Base Hawaii, said Monday night that John Lukac is being recommended for a Purple Heart for his fatal injury.