More than 1,000 people honored U.S. Air Force pilot Lucas Gruenther, of Twain Harte, at a memorial service Wednesday at Aviano Air Base in Italy.
Service members, family members and friends spoke of Gruenther’s “inspiring nature and enthusiastic spirit, recalling his selfless and admirable qualities that he exemplified in his everyday life,” according to a statement from the Air Base.
Gruenther’s wife, Cassy Gruenther, who gave birth to daughter Serene the following morning in Italy (7:44 p.m. Wednesday PST), was among many family members who attended the service.
In a posting on the “Live Like Luc” Facebook page, Cassy Gruenther was quoted to have said: “He lived a life full of adventure and full of love. If he were here, he would challenge each and every one of you to go climb that mountain you’ve been waiting to climb, he would tell you to plan that trip you haven’t planned, he would tell you to call that friend you’ve been thinking about, and he would tell you to be sure to tell your loved ones you love them every day. “
Lucas Gruenther, 32, assigned to the 31st Fighter Wing, went missing during a nighttime training mission over the Adriatic Sea Jan. 28. His body, along with some parts from his F-16 fighter, were recovered days later in the Adriatic Sea, during a massive search by U.S. and Italian forces.
“Nothing I can say can put the emotional stress on the life and the hope and the ambition that he has given everyone he’s known,” said Maj. Travis Winslow, 555th Fighter Squadron pilot. “He is the quintessential role model.”
Capt. Nicholas Krajicek, 555th FS pilot said, “I think we can offer Gaza (Gruenther’s nickname) no greater tribute than to look at his life and just be inspired.”
He was posthumously promoted to major.
During Wednesday’s ceremony, Gruenther’s wife was presented the Aerial Achievement Medal, for efforts during Gruenther’s deployment to Afghanistan, where he performed 17 Operation Enduring Freedom combat missions, and the Meritorious Service Medal for distinguished service as 31st Fighter Wing chief of flight safety and as 555th Fighter Squadron assistant chief of training.
“He was clearly a special man, just take a look around,” said Brig. Gen. Scott Zobrist, 31st Fighter Wing commander as he gestured to the brimming hangar. “He was a professional Air Force officer and a wonderful human being.