War divides family of fallen Marine
By: Ryan Sabalow, Journal Staff Writer
Thursday, November 24, 2005 12:29 AM PST
Lance Cpl. John Lucente, right, stands with his father, Tony Lucente, prior to being shipped out to Iraq. Courtesy Photo
Fallen Marine Lance Cpl. John Lucente is known to his family in Nevada County as a quiet, shy boy who became a local hero.
But family members from his former hometown of Fresno say there was more to him than a quiet person who bravely gave his life in Iraq. They say they're saddened that he died in what they call a "senseless war."
"We're not just proud because he died for his country," said Lucente's stepmother, Naomi Lucente, in a recent phone interview. "We're proud of him because he was the son that we loved."
Lucente, 19, died last week while fighting in Iraq's al-Abar province. He will be honored at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hooper & Weaver Mortuary, 459 Hollow Way in Nevada City. A public reception is scheduled at 12:30 p.m. at the Lake of the Pines clubhouse, where his stepfather, Shawn Mason, worked as golf pro.
Naomi Lucente said she and Lucente's father, Tony, tried to discourage John from joining the Marines, offering instead to pay his way through college.
But Lucente joined anyway in his junior year at Bear River High School. That's the JT (as he was known to his family) she remembers - a rambunctious boy who followed his own path.
"He always was a ball of joy and a spitfire," she said. "He wasn't always this kid sitting in the corner."
She said Lucente looked up to his father, a former bodybuilder, and lived with him for much of the 14 years he spent in Fresno before moving to Lake of the Pines. Even after moving away, he spent weekends, summers and holidays with his dad. At every visit, he would give a flex to show his family his new muscles.
"He'd always say, 'I'm getting bigger, right dad?'" Naomi Lucente said after laughingly recounting that his muscles never really sprouted.
As Lucente's family relived memories and mourned more than a week after receiving the news he had been killed, the community and his home state have found ways to show their support.
Flags were at half-mast at Lake of the Pines and the California State Capitol to honor Lucente and the three other Camp Pendleton-based Marines from his squad killed while fighting Oct. 16 in Ubaydi, Iraq.
Local support has poured out for the Marine.
The Friends of the Nevada County Military made a quilt in his honor and have started a relief fund to help his family.
Fred Buhler, president of the group, said over the weekend, dozens of community members came to three locations, the Elks Lodge in Nevada City, Nevada County's Rood Center, and Lucente's home church, the Calvary Chapel in Grass Valley, to write words of sorrow and encouragement for his family.
"It's quite wonderful to see what they said in their messages of love and support," Buhler said.
Buhler said residents have also been donating to a special fund in his honor, the proceeds from which will go to Lucente's family.
Checks or cash can be sent to the Lance Cpl. John Lucente Memorial Fund at El Dorado Savings Bank in Lake of the Pines, 10612 Combie Road, Auburn, Calif., 95602.
Lucente was killed with three other Marines as they made a sweep of enemy combatants near the Syrian border, after insurgents ambushed the farmhouse they were inspecting.
Lance Cpl. Roger Deeds, 24, of Biloxi, Miss.; Cpl. Jeffrey Rogers, 21, of Oklahoma City; and Cpl. Joshua Ware, 20, of Apache, Okla., were killed by small arms fire. Lucente died from wounds suffered from a hand grenade blast.
Naomi Lucente said the family is barely coping with the grief. Although they consider him a hero, they feel that his death and the war in which he fought are unjustified, but their hearts go out his comrades killed with him and to those still fighting.
"We don't believe he belonged there," she said. "However, we support the troops. We support every man, women and child over there. We couldn't be prouder."
His family members in Nevada County have spent the last week alone with friends at their Lake of the Pines home.
Although they have kept their contact with the media to a minimum, Lucente's mother, Kristine Mason, recently sent an e-mail to the Journal that contained a letter posted on her employer's Web site.
Mason, an adoption coordinator with the Lifetime Adoption Facilitation Center in Rough and Ready, wrote that Lucente's faith drove his life and gave him courage during the fighting.
The family's faith has also aided in their grief.
"Our family and friends have united in prayer, asking that Christ's love and grace surround us, bringing comfort in this time of unbelievable sorrow," she wrote. "We also pray for our troops here and around the world, fighting for the freedoms that we all embrace."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Final farewell for Marine
Hundreds pay respects to Bear River graduate killed on duty in Iraq
By: Penne Usher, Journal Staff Writer
Sunday, November 27, 2005 2:25 AM PST
NEVADA CITY - Mourners fell into somber silence as the casket of fallen Marine Lance Cpl. John Lucente progressed through rows of waving American flags Saturday.
Lucente, 19, was killed Nov. 16 while fighting in Iraq's al-Anbar province. Hundreds came to pay their respects and honor the Bear River graduate who speakers said died much too soon.
As Lucente's mother Christie Mason sat stoically clutching the hand of her husband Shawn Mason, Todd Johnson, senior pastor at Calvary Chapel Grass Valley, read her words at the memorial services honoring Lucente.
"As John's mother, I will never put away the memories of my first-born. I will lift up every day to ensure that he is never forgotten," Johnson read. "We honor John's beautiful life, his sacrifice, and his proud service as a United States Marine."
Lucente enlisted in the Marine Corps when he was a junior at Bear River High School.
"It was a decision he made on his own, out of a deep desire to serve God and his country," his mother wrote.
The young soldier's casket was led past more than 70 flags held by area Boy Scouts, members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, U.S. Marines and the American Foreign Legion, as Wayne Powers sang the U.S. Marine Corps Hymn.
Lucente was to his friends and family proud to wear his uniform.
"He was quiet. But he wasn't quiet about being a Marine," said friend Marine Lance Cpl. Luke Jenkins. "He couldn't wait to get out of high school to enlist."
The flags at Hooper and Weaver Mortuary in Grass Valley flew at half-staff above the hundreds who gathered around the seated family for the outdoor services. A reception followed at the Lake of the Pines clubhouse.
A member of the Grass Valley division of the California Highway Patrol presented Christine Mason with a flag of California.
Sue Horne, the Nevada County supervisor who represents the Lake of the Pines area, presented the Lucente and Mason families with memorial quilts embroidered with well wishes from community members.
"We in Nevada County were very proud of John," Horne said.
As members of the U.S. Marine Corps honored Lucente with a 21-gun salute and played "Taps," Lucente's father, Tony Lucente, held tight to the hand of his wife, Naomi.
The Marine Corps presented both the Lucente and Mason family with American flags.
"Our friends and family share our admiration for John, who so proudly became a Marine and died in service, protecting our freedoms and fighting that others may know the same God-given rights that we as Americans embrace," Christine Mason wrote.
Lucente, known to his friends and family as "JT," was described as a hardworking young man, who enjoyed spending time with his family, including his stepfather Shawn Mason and brother Cris, 15, and sister Cassie, 9. The family recently added baby brother Jake, whom Lucente named. He never got to hold his now 8-week-old baby brother.
An important part of Lucente's life was his faith, said his friend Emily Shore. She said the two attended Calvary Chapel Grass Valley together.
In an e-mail sent to his parents and posted on the Friends of Nevada County Military Web site, Lucente wrote, "Pray for me and my squad. I love (you) lots."
Christine Mason wrote as part of her eulogy, which is also posted on the site, "Our family and friends have united in prayer, asking that Christ's love and grace surround us, bringing comfort in this time of unbelievable sorrow. We also pray for our troops here and around the world, fighting for the freedoms that we all embrace."
Pain, loss at Marine's death
Lake of the Pines rallies behind family of Iraq War casualty John Lucente
By: Ryan Sabalow, Journal Staff Writer
Friday, November 18, 2005 9:27 AM PST
LAKE OF THE PINES - It was a somber scene Thursday at Bear River High School, as the stepfather of a 19-year-old Marine killed in Iraq Wednesday addressed the media.
"This just doesn't seem real," said Shawn Mason during an improvised press conference at the school where Lance Cpl. John Lucente graduated in 2004. "The family is supposed to come together for the holidays, not for occasions like this."
The rest of Lake of the Pines, a gated community north of Auburn, is also struggling after learning that Lucente - who died Wednesday with four other Marines in an attack in Iraq's al-Abar province as his patrol group swept the area near the Syrian border for enemy combatants - would never return.
"It's hard to believe," Chuck Lautrup, president of the Lake of the Pines board of directors, said Thursday. "There's some real sadness. There's no two ways about it."
Others said the community is rallying behind the family.
"Everybody seems to genuinely care," said Cable Kees, a 17-year-old Bear River senior who knew Lucente only in passing. "If they don't know them personally, they know somebody who does. It affects everybody."
Mason said the shock of Lucente's death is especially severe, since the family had only one day's warning that he was even on the front lines.
On Tuesday, the family discovered an e-mail Lucente had sent a month earlier asking them to pray for him and his fellow Marines.
Mason said Lucente sent the e-mail on Oct. 15 telling them that he was being taken off a "show of force" world tour and sent to Iraq.
The family didn't find the e-mail until Tuesday because it was buried in the family's spam, or junk mail folder.
Lucente's mother, Kristine Mason, found it while she attempted to delete some of the junk messages. The next day, a pair of Marines came to the Lake of the Pines Country Club, where Shawn Mason works as golf director, to tell him his stepson had been killed.
Their loss is also compounded by the fact that Kristine Mason gave birth just seven weeks ago to Lucente's baby brother. Mason said Lucente named the boy Jake. He broke down in tears when he attempted to describe what it's like for the family to know that Lucente would never hold his brother.
Most who knew Lucente described the active member of Grass Valley's Calvary Chapel as an exceedingly quiet and thoughtful young man, not someone they would expect to be a tough and heroic Marine.
"He was a very nice kid. Polite," said Jeff Alaways, a youth pastor at Calvary Chapel. "It's hard to imagine him as a Marine since he was so quiet. But when you think of the other side of him, I bet he was a stud. He was a real hero."
Mason said his stepson spent most of his time playing video games, watching his favorite movies, "Star Wars" and "Saving Private Ryan," and listening to Christian music.
He grew interested in the armed forces during his junior year at Bear River. Mason said he tried to discourage his son from joining the Marines, suggesting instead he join the Air Force or the Coast Guard.
Mason said no matter how much he tried to dissuade Lucente from joining, he couldn't quell his passion for the Corps. Lucente enlisted early during his junior year and completed his senior project on the Marines.
Although Mason said he didn't want his stepson in combat, it doesn't mean his family isn't exceedingly proud, or doesn't still support the war in Iraq.
"He was doing what he wanted to do," Mason said. "He was fighting for his country."