Navy Corpsman Left College to Go to War

Navy Corpsman Luke Emch joined the military after a year at the University of Akron. He told his father he felt he should serve along with others his age who had fewer options. He died one day before his tour of duty was over. Renita Jablonski reports from member station WKSU in Ohio.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.

Navy Corpsman Luke Emch will be buried tomorrow at a military cemetery in Rittman, Ohio. He was killed March 2nd near Ramadi, one day before he was scheduled to wrap up his tour of duty in Iraq. Emch was assigned to the 1st Marine Explosive Ordinance Disposal Company.

From member station WKSU in Kent, Ohio, Renita Jablonski reports.

RENITA JABLONSKI: Luke Emch had a pretty clear plan about how he was going to get out of working around the house when he returned home from Iraq. He would simply declare to his parents, Wesley and Julie Emch, that it was a holiday.

Ms. JULIE EMCH (Mother): He missed all these holidays, so that if we had some chores or something we wanted him to do, he was going to say, well, it's Thanksgiving or it's Christmas, I can't, I can't do that chore. So Wesley and I decided that we would make each day (unintelligible) a different holiday that he'd missed.

JABLONSKI: The Emch's were going to cook a complete Thanksgiving meal, buy Christmas presents and celebrate his birthday. Luke Emch turned 21 on February 8th. His father had a plan of his own.

Mr. WESLEY EMCH (Father): I was going to buy him his first legal beer.

JABLONSKI: The memories of those final conversations are shared around a big wooden table in the dinning area of the Emch home in Brimfield, Ohio, a small town about 50 miles south of Cleveland. Wesley Emch looks to his left and points to where he was sitting in the living room when his son announced he was joining the military despite thinking the war was wrong. It was a view he shared with his parents.

Mr. EMCH: He told me what he felt about how it always seemed like it's the kids that couldn't do anything, they'd enlist in the military so they could pay for their college and their...

(Soundbite of sobbing)

Mr. EMCH: He said somebody's got to take care of them. And after he said that, I couldn't argue with him anymore.

JABLONSKI: Emch says his son had strong opinions but an even stronger commitment to serve his country. On his MySpace page, Luke Emch describes himself as a liberal Democrat, very different from his best friend, 21-year-old Ian Fouts(ph).

Mr. IAN FOUTS (Friend): I'm an avid Rush Limbaugh guy and he hates Rush Limbaugh, but the thing about Luke was that it wasn't about the politics, because he didn't have to be there. He could have been with me getting a college education.

JABLONSKI: Fouts and Emch became friends during their freshman year at the University of Akron.

Mr. FOUTS: He was always making jokes and he could make everyone laugh.

JABLONSKI: Fouts says that's something he plans to talk about during the memorial service. The procession after the funeral service to the cemetery will go by Tallmadge High, where Emch graduated three years ago.

Crews are stepping through melting snow to place American flags on the side of the road leading to the school's entrance.

(Soundbite of high school office)

JABLONSKI: Sitting in the office of Tallmadge High, Jon Shomo says he recently learned he was Luke Emch's favorite instructor. The stillness in the face of the social studies teacher is replaced with a smile when he recalls what Emch was like in class.

Mr. JON SHOMO (Teacher): He was very vagarious. I saw him as fun-loving and I enjoyed him. He was very aware of the things that were going on in the world.

JABLONSKI: Back at the wood cabin-styled Emch home, Wesley Emch remembers the event that was more special for Luke than turning 21 and being able to legally drink. It was his 18th birthday, when he rushed out to register to vote.

For NPR News, I'm Renita Jablonski.

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