MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII --
Sometimes honoring a person’s sacrifice can be unique. Former Hawaii-based Marine Cpl. Eric Lueken, 23, paid the ultimate price and has since been honored in multiple ways, including his name appearing on buildings, banners and monuments. Now, his name will be rocketed around a racetrack.
Lueken was a radio operator with 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment and native of Dubois, Ind., when he was killed in action April 22, 2006, by an improvised explosive device in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
John Marks, Lueken’s cousin, participated in wounded warriors specific events and the Boston Marathon in Lueken’s memory. Now, Lueken’s name will appear on NASCAR racecar driver Kurt Busch’s number 41 Stewart-Haas Chevrolet this September after Marks decided to nominate him through the Race Dedication Program.
“I was with a NASCAR team before,” Marks said. “So when I heard about this chance, I knew I would have support.”
Through the Race Dedication Program, a collaboration between Busch and the Armed Forces Foundation, the 24-time race victor races in memory or in honor of a service member throughout the NASCAR season.
The goals of the program are to raise awareness about post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, military suicides and honor service members and veterans, particularly combat wounded or fallen warriors. The program also focuses on connecting the NASCAR community to the armed forces and veterans.
Lueken was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. His other awards include two Combat Action Ribbons as well as the Iraq and Afghanistan Campaign Medals. He enlisted in the Marine Corps October 2003, two years after graduating from high school.
Lueken’s parents, Jake and Melinda, explained how they felt honored knowing their son’s memory would live on in such a way.
“It truly is really nice and such an honor,” Jake said. “It’s great that Kurt Busch and the racing team does this every race.”
Jake Lueken and Marks plan on going to the NASCAR Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Sept. 15 to see Eric’s name on Busch’s race car.
“I am one of Eric’s biggest fans,” Marks said. “When I first heard his name was going to be on the car, it had to sink in. After visiting the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center and meeting service members who are double amputees, I realized that our country needs to give more support to our military. I hope that’s what will come of this — more awareness and support for our service members.”