(KMSP) - On February 21, 2005, the Minnesota National Guard experienced one of the most horrific tragedies in our post-9/11 world.
Three Minnesota soldiers were killed on that day while deployed in Iraq. In the 12 years since the tragedy, their family and friends back home have vowed never to forget their fallen heroes.
Sgt. Jesse Lhotka was with his Montevideo-based National Guard unit in Baghdad. There was a convoy crash, a rush to help the injured and an improvised explosive device. Lhotka and two fellow Minnesota soldiers, 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman and Staff Sgt. David Day, were all killed in the blast. All three were in their mid-20s.
At the time, it was the deadliest combat event for the Minnesota National Guard since the Vietnam War.
"We'll never forget the sacrifices of these great soldiers because their lives were all ahead of them,” Col. Kevin Olson of the Minnesota National Guard said.
Heartbreaking memorial services and funerals with widows would follow, as would tears and grief.
St. Louis Park Police Officer Mike Merwin was David Day’s filed training officer at the St. Louis Park Police Department and also served as a pallbearer at his funeral. He says they all still miss him, especially on this day.
“David was missed the day he left for Iraq, and we still miss him,” Merwin told Fox 9. “Ask anybody at the St. Louis Park Police Department what they remember about David Day and they will tell you that he was full of life and always smiling. He was a man of great character who not only cared about people, but how those people saw him. His kindness was only outdone by his courage, and it was no surprise to anybody at this department to learn that his final acts were efforts to help those who needed it.”
Jesse Lhkota’s sister, Sonja, still vividly remembers that February day of her senior year in high school when she found out her brother was never coming home.
"I knew it wasn't good,” Sonja said. “I knew. You knew. So there's that sick feeling you never forget. It's hard."
When Sonja had her son, it was a no-brainer. She named him Tyler Jesse – a way to honor her brother's sacrifice.
Today, as she reflects on the lives of the trio, she asks that others take a moment to do the same.
"For anyone to remember what these guys put at risk and their families, not just on Veteran's Day,” Sonja said. “Remember what they sacrificed is what I want people to remember."