Major Lucas Frederick “GAZA” Gruenther, 32, of Twain Harte, California, passed away on January 28, 2013 when his F-16 Fighting Falcon jet went down in the Adriatic Sea off of the coast of Italy.

There will be a Celebration of Life service for Luc on Sunday, March 17, 2013 at Summerville High School at 1:00 p.m (attendees are encouraged to wear green). A full military honors funeral service will be held on March 22, 2013 at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado at 10:30 a.m. The family invites all to attend. Luc was born in Sonora, California on December 29, 1980. He attended Twain Harte Elementary School and graduated from Summerville High School.

Luc earned his commission from the United States Air Force Academy in 2003, where he was a Distinguished Graduate and member of the Parachute Team, the “Wings of Blue”. While at the Academy, Luc earned a Bachelor of Science in Management and a Minor in Spanish.

Major Gruenther went on to attend Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training at Sheppard AFB, TX. Following pilot training, Major Gruenther remained at Sheppard AFB and served as a T-37 Instructor Pilot until attending the F-16 Basic Course in 2009 with the 162nd Fighter Squadron in Springfield, OH. Major Gruenther was flying with the World Famous Highly Respected “Triple Nickel” serving as the Assistant Chief of Training, Chief of Plans, and combat F-16 pilot during Operation ENDURING FREEDOM, accumulating over 400 combat hours. Major Gruenther earned his Master’s Degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and is a Distinguished Graduate of Squadron Officer School.

Major Lucas Gruenther was an F-16 Flight Lead and Chief of Flight Safety for the 31st Fighter Wing, Aviano Air Base, Italy. As Chief of Flight Safety, he developed and executed all aspects of the wing commander’s flight safety mishap prevention and response program.

Lucas was dedicated to being the best he could be with integrity, honesty, courage and joy of life. During childhood Lucas loved snowboarding, the mountains, fishing at the secret spot, and his friends Eli and Dave. While in high school Luc received his black belt in Taekwondo, rode on Aunt Rissa’s shoulders, played on the golf team, was soccer goal keep, befriended Rosemary Jenkins, attended JROTC, met his future wife Cassy, bungee jumped in Mexico on an untested cord, tossed pies at “I Love Pizza”, maintained a 4 plus grade average, created climbing routes on Table Mountain, and was Student Body President. During his AFA days Luc honed his rock climbing skills, dove through blue skies with the Wings of Blue 4-way competition sky diving team, was a Big Brother, became a certified SCUBA diver, and had many good times with his Sponsor Auntie M and his cousins, all while graduating with honors. Lucas loved to fly and was honored to lend air support in Afghanistan. Luc found beauty in the mountains during his combat flights. His best day of deployment was when he met the men he supported during his mission. Luc had an infectious smile, and a special way with children and animals, his dog Jess knows many tricks which she loved to perform for Lucas. Even dogs who visited the Gruenther home for a short visit while their owners were away would learn a trick or two before returning home. Luc had a gift for languages and was fluent in Spanish and Italian. Lucas loved Italy and had many friends in the community. He was a Maniago community liaison for the Vicini Americani program promoting friendship between the Italian and American communities. Luc trained to stay in top physical condition, eating a plant based diet and exercising. In October Lucas ran 60 K, with over 7000 meter elevations and technical terrain in the Magredi Mountain Trail Run ultra-marathon in Vivaro, Italy. Lucas loved to travel, he and Cassy made frequent adventurous journeys throughout Europe, Mexico, Peru and the US…..Friends and family joined the travelers whenever they could and something fun and unexpected was always happening when Lucas was near, like traversing a 6 inch wide via ferratta on a massive cliff, paddling miles in the freezing rain to a beautiful campsite in Norway, scuba diving in an underwater sand storm, catching 200 crawdads in the Kings River or kissing a fish. Lucas’ many beautiful photographs of people, animals and places reflect his love for life and will be treasured.

Major Gruenther had many outstanding achievements. He will be remembered because of the way he treated people with wisdom and kindness. He was a role model to many and a true humanitarian. He lived his life to the fullest and never took a day for granted. He loved with all of his heart everyday and he was a genuine human being who made a positive impact where ever he went. To quote Lucas, “…as per usual, life is good.”

Luc is survived by his daughter Serene Gruenther born on February 7, 2013, his wife of 7 years, Cassy Gruenther, his parents Romel Mathias and Joseph Malin, his brother and sister in-law Alex & Britton Gruenther, his brother Chance Hildreth, his grandmother Melba Mathias, his grandmother Brigitta Gruenther. His Aunts Megan & Marissa Mathias and cousins Sara, Eza, Max, McKenzie and Isabella; and many friends and comrades. Luc is preceded in death by his Grandfather Robert B. “ Bob” Mathias, Grandfather Colonel Donald Gruenther, Great Grandparents General Alfred M. Gruenther, Lillian & Dr. Charlie Mathias, and Inez & Dr. Harry Wiser.

In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made to the Major Lucas Gruenther Memorial fund. This fund provides scholarships for young men and women that emulate Luc’s love for life and outgoing positive personality.