There are no public events or gatherings, but there are many throughout western Minnesota who are in their own ways quietly remembering three men on this day.
It was 15 years ago today that three Minnesota National Guardsmen were killed in Iraq. Remembered are: Sgt. Jesse Lhotka, 24, of Alexandria and formerly of Appleton, 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman, 25, of Tracy, and Staff Sgt. David Day, 25, of Morris. They were killed Feb. 21, 2005, when an improvised explosive device exploded in Baghdad, Iraq. They were aiding their fellow soldiers injured in a convoy accident.
Their deaths were felt across western Minnesota. They were among the 330 members of the 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery headquartered in Montevideo serving in Iraq. The soldiers were from units in Appleton, Olivia, Marshall, Montevideo, Morris and Ortonville.
All three of the fallen soldiers remain remembered throughout the region.
“Very, very much so,” said Chad Turner, who had served alongside the three.
He had started what is believed to be one of the first military motorcycle rides as a way to remember fallen soldiers. The LTD (Lhotka, Timmerman, Day) Memorial Ride had a 10-year run beginning in 2006. At its peak year, the ride had 753 participating motorcycles, Turner said. The line of bikes stretched more than seven miles. The riders covered a nearly 300-mile loop, taking in all of the home areas of the three soldiers.
“They’ll never be forgotten with the amount of memorials in the different towns,” Turner said.
He said he started the LTD Ride to remember the three soldiers, and as a way to support all who have served. He saw too many Vietnam veterans stay quiet after their service and not say anything, and eventually suffer the mental stress of it.
“I wanted to do something positive,” he said.
The opportunity to get together, remember the men and support their families has definitely been a positive thing, according to Corey Fennell, who also served along with the three. Fennell, originally of Benson, owes his life to Jesse Lhotka.
Fennell was in the turret atop his Humvee which was rolling over as a result of the convoy accident. “He grabbed my legs and pulled me into the vehicle as we slipped over,’’ Fennell said. He watched from the medevac helicopter as Lhotka helped transport the injured Humvee driver to the helicopter.
The three soldiers should be remembered for how they always helped others, which is exactly what they were doing at the time of their deaths, Fennell said.
“They weren’t concerned about their personal safety. What they cared about was helping the guys that were hurt, wanting to be sure we were OK,” he said.
“No second-guessing anything. They just went into action,” Fennell said.
He knew Lhotka best, and appreciated him especially for his humor and good spirits. “Just a great guy, always with the biggest smile,” he said.
Turner and Fennell said there has been a lot of support for the families of the three men. With all of the family ties the men had throughout the region, it’s easy to understand the shock that was felt here when they died, Fennell said.
It seems surreal, he said, to think it’s been 15 years.
While the LTD Ride ended after 10 years, there are plans to revive a motorcycle ride to remember those who gave their lives. Quinton Lhotka, a brother of Jesse Lhotka, said he was to meet with a group of people Thursday night. Their intentions are to hold a memorial ride this summer.
The volunteers who made possible the 10 years of LTD Rides opened the way for many memorial rides, Quinton Lhotka said. The hope of those planning the next is to honor those who have stood up for us, he said.