Jesse Lhotka

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Army Sergeant Jesse M. Lhotka was born on March 10th, 1980, in Appleton, Minnesota, Swift County, to parents Beverly and Donald Lhotka.

As a kid, family members recall, he was prankster and a master creator and organizer, building tree forts, creating a play or inventing a game for his siblings — for which he'd make and change the rules as he pleased, of course.

At Lac Qui Parle High School he played football and was both his sophomore and senior classes’ president. He was even voted a homecoming attendant. His fellow classmates voted him "Class Clown." He later graduated from Saint Cloud State University with a Bachelors Degree in Finance.

To help pay for his education he joined the Minnesota Army National Guard and was assigned to C Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Field Artillery Regiment which was deployed to Iraq in October 2004.

Jesse met his wife, Stacy, through a fellow Guard member. It was a blind date, but that didn't deter Jesse Lhotka, the romantic. "He greeted me at the door with a white rose," she said. He was about six years younger than her, so Stacey Lhotka thought he was "too young at the time." But Jesse turned out to be very mature for his age. Since the age of 14, his father-in-law said, he helped his single mother raise his five younger siblings. Mother Beverly Lhotka called him "the best big brother."

He also turned out to be a husband who had respect for old-fashioned ways and yet was not afraid to show sensitivity.

Stacey's father, Dave Walters, a 53-year-old who ran a trucking business in nearby Sauk Centre, recalled Jesse’s gratitude when he took the young man on a four-wheeling trip with some friends. Jesse opened up to him on the way back home, Walters said. He told him "I've never gotten to do stuff like this. I just loved it." Walters enjoyed the time alone with Jesse so much that he eased up on the gas pedal to give them more time to talk. "That's when we first bonded," Walters said.

When it came time to propose to Stacey, Jesse visited Walters at his shop, and as good as asked for his daughter's hand in marriage. The two spent almost four hours having a heart-to-heart talk in the shop about the ins and outs of marriage in the face of a possible deployment to Iraq. Jesse finally did propose to Stacey when they were about to depart for a send-off party in Appleton a month before deployment. A sister said he presented her with a dozen roses and a note asking her to "share my life with me."

They were married Sept. 18, 2004. At the wedding, Walters said, "we put (Iraq) on the back burner, but it was always on everyone's mind."

After he was deployed, Jesse was able to take a five-day leave in mid-December, where he spent an early Christmas with his family.

He often e-mailed and called home, and after Iraqi elections, he called almost every day.

He never complained, family members said. The food was good, he said, and they recall he was always focused on how they were doing.

Stacey was drawn to him because of his lust for life, she said. "He was the absolute life of any crowd he was in," she said. "He was the biggest socializer." He was supposed to serve until about April 2006, but the newlyweds had hoped his deployment would end sooner.

On February 21, 2005, Jesse M. Lhotka was killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad, Iraq while assisting other members of his unit out of an overturned convoy vehicle, which had been involved, in an accident with a civilian vehicle.

His funeral took place on March 2, 2005 at Zion Lutheran Church in Appleton, Minnesota where 200 of a crowd of about 800 had to watch on a screen at the former Appleton High School. The Reverend Vickie Haverkamp remembered how, “He absolutely loved people, and everyone around him loved him.” A letter read from his mother thanked him for all of his love and respect and for bringing Stacy into the family. “I still have six children,” she wrote, and now one angel.” A letter from his sister Sonja talked about a brother she remembered for “a comforting smile that could warm the freezing rain” and “big brown eyes (that could) take away the pain.” A letter from his wife Stacy read, “Jesse, you are the best thing that ever happened to me.” More than 100 uniformed troops with the 151st Field Artillery joined in offering a military salute to Lhotka and his survivors. Two AH64 Blackhawk helicopters flew low over the church as the mourners gathered around his casket after the service. Internment took place at Greenwood Cemetery in Sauk Center, Minnesota.

Survivors include his wife, Stacy; mother, Beverly; father, Donald; siblings Amollia, Vanessa, Sonja, Quinton and Amy; and parents-in-law, David and Mary Walters.

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