Army Spc. Lucas Frantz, A Kansan Football Hero

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A sniper killed Army Spc. Lucas Frantz in the Iraqi city of Mosul on his 22nd birthday. We look at the life of this small-town football hero.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Lucas Frantz was killed last week in Iraq. He was shot by a sniper in Mosul on his 22nd birthday. The Army specialist had been in Iraq just two months. NPR's Greg Allen visited Frantz's hometown of Tonganoxie, Kansas.

GREG ALLEN reporting:

In small towns like Tonganoxie, the schools are the centerpiece of the community. And in the fall there are few things more important than high school football.

(Soundbite of football practice)

Unidentified Man #1: Get to the ball! Get to the ball! Get to the ball!

(Soundbite of whistling)

Unidentified Man #2: Justin...

Unidentified Man #3: Justin...

ALLEN: The Tonganoxie Chieftains' practices have been especially intense this week. They're playing for the district championship, but it's been tough to keep the focus on football. Many on the team knew Lucas Frantz, a former star linebacker and offensive tackle, who was killed October 18th in Iraq. Before the game Friday, the team retired Frantz's jersey and held a brief memorial. Chieftains coach Mark Elston says Frantz was a coach's dream; a role model and an inspiration not just for the team, but for everyone in Tonganoxie.

Mr. MARK ELSTON (Coach, Tonganoxie Chieftains): You know, in a small community, everybody knows him or knows somebody who knew him. So, yeah, it touches everybody, and not just people directly connected to him or related; it touched the whole town. And everybody, all the alumni that came back to see him, they probably have been to a game in a few years.

(Soundbite of locker door being closed)

ALLEN: Frantz's jersey is going to hang here, in the Chieftains' locker room. His name is already up on the wall. Frantz was a 2001 all-conference player, a football star who, his family says, always planned to be a soldier. His wife, Kelly, says Lucas would have been embarrassed by all the attention. She describes him as a big guy that's sweet, a person who was always looking out for others. Kelly Frantz says that's what he was doing when he was killed.

Mrs. KELLY FRANTZ (Widow): He was out on a routine patrol. He was the vehicle commander of a Stryker, and his job was to stand outside the hatch and guard over his other guys. And that's what he was doing, he was protecting his brothers when he was shot by a sniper.

ALLEN: Kelly and Lucas Frantz had been married just two years when he was killed, but they'd been together much longer. They began dating when he was 16 and she was 18. Lucas was on a fast track, joining the Army Reserves when he was still in high school, completing basic training before his senior year. But Kelly says he wasn't happy in the Reserves, and shortly after they married, he went on active duty and was posted to Alaska. Kelly's mom, Pam Jeannin, says Lucas was always thinking about helping others--in 2000, working on the roof of a neighbor's house that had been hit by a tornado.

Ms. PAM JEANNIN: 'Cause he knew I really wanted a porch on the house. The week before he left to go to Alaska, Lucas built a porch for me. If he knew that you wanted something, you know, you didn't have to ask twice; you didn't even have to ask once. He just knew it, and he did it.

ALLEN: Kelly Frantz says she and Lucas knew when he went on active duty that he'd be shipped to Iraq. She says while he didn't want to go, they both knew it was the job he'd signed up for.

Mrs. FRANTZ: He knew what he was fighting for, and he was going over there for a reason. And I believe that even more now. He's over there--or he was over there fighting for all of us. And all of his brothers, they're still over there fighting.

ALLEN: Kelly Frantz says although they had just five years together, she and Lucas had a lifetime of love. His funeral was held today at Tonganoxie's VFW Park, where a sign there says simply, `Thank You, Lucas.' Greg Allen, NPR News.

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