A celebration of life will be held at Summerville High School on March 17 for Maj. Lucas Gruenther, an Air Force pilot from Twain Harte whose plane crashed in the Adriatic Sea.
The celebration will start at 1 p.m. in the large gym at Summerville, where Gruenther graduated in 1999. His family is inviting the public to attend the service and encouraging attendees to wear green, the color of his squadron.
A full military funeral will take place for Gruenther on March 22 at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo, where he will be laid to rest.
In lieu of flowers, his family is asking that donations be made to the Major Lucas Gruenther Memorial Fund via his memorial website - www.lucasgruenther.com .
The fund will give scholarships to young men and women who emulate Gruenther's "love for life and outgoing positive personality," according to his family.
At the time of his death, Gruenther was an F-16 pilot stationed at Aviano Air Force Base in Italy. He was conducting a nighttime training exercise on Jan. 28 when the base lost contact with his plane.
A massive internationalsearch effort yielded debris from his plane and ended with the discovery of his body by an Italian vessel.
His mother, Romel Mathias, of Twain Harte, and mother-in-law, Kerry Williams, of Tuolumne, flew to Italy to be with his wife, Cassy Gruenther, who was pregnant with the couple's first child Serene. Gruenther's brother, Capt. Alexander Gruenther, also an Air Force captain, joined them.
The Air Force investigation into the crash is ongoing. The 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base told Stars and Stripes, a military newspaper, that findings about the accident's cause will be released in 60 to 90 days.
U.S. Navy divers recovered more than 200 pieces of debris from Gruenther's F-16, Stars and Stripes reported.
A memorial service was held for Gruenther at Aviano Air Base in Italy Feb. 6. It was attended by more than 1,000 people. The next morning, Cassy Gruenther - his high school sweetheart from Summerville - gave birth to Serene.
Lucas Gruenther was born in Sonora on Dec. 29, 1980, and attended Twain Harte School. At Summerville High School, he became student council president, played soccer and was involved in several clubs.
He went on to attend the Air Force Academy, where he graduated with distinction in 2003. He then trained at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas. He remained there as a flight instructor and trained as an F-16 pilot in Springfield, Ohio.
He deployed to Afghanistan with the 555th Fighter Squadron, or "Triple Nickel," and accumulated more than 400 combat hours.
As chief of flight safety for the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano Air Base, he was responsible for safety inspections and writing safety plans.
He was posthumously promoted from captain to major.
"He will be remembered because of the way he treated people with wisdom and kindness," Gruenther's family said in his obituary.
"He was a role model to many and a true humanitarian … He was a genuine human being who made a positive impact wherever he went. To quote Lucas, ' … as per usual, life is good.' "