With a twinkle in his eye, an infectious smile and a touch of wit, Derrick Lutters was an easy-going kind of guy everyone liked. He also was patriotic as were other members of his family, and he paid with his life in Iraq at the age of 24.
This year is the 10th anniversary of his May 1 death and his father, Chuck Lutters, painstakingly restored the 1971 Chevrolet truck Derrick owned during high school. It now is in immaculate and original condition.
The two had rebuilt the engine and transmission, but they never completed the body work. Like many high school students, Derrick was a bit rough on his truck, and the two had spent a lot of time repairing it.
“We souped it up, and he’d tear the transmission up or we’d have to buy tires,” Chuck said.
“There’s not one bolt that hasn’t been taken out and redone. Every part has been off of it,” he said. “I sandblasted it and painted it.
“Derrick liked his truck.”
Last fall, with the anniversary approaching, Chuck became serious about restoring the vehicle because he knew he wanted to have it ready this spring. On May 1 of this year, Chuck drove the truck to Ransom where Derrick is buried. He also drove it on Memorial Day and Saturday for the American Legion’s 4th annual CW2 Bryan Nichols and Sgt. Derrick Lutters Memorial Ride.
“It was bittersweet,” Chuck said of the work. “Sometimes you’d have tears of sorrow. Then there were tears of laughter, and then your next thought would be something more serious.
“You think of him every day,” he said. “You’d go out in the garage and work on it and some nights you’d think of something that made you hurt but then you’d have a lot of good memories.
“Out of everything bad, there is something good.”
Chuck did make a few changes to the truck.
“I put a few more ponies in it,” he said. “Derrick would really like it.”
As the years have gone by, it has become easier for Chuck to remember the good times. Derrick had a personality that could always make people laugh, he said.
Derrick has an older sister and brother who had left home by the time he was in high school. The father and son became close with just the two of them.
“We had a lot of elderly neighbors, and he was always helping them,” Chuck said. “He had a big heart for those that were underprivileged or for somebody that was bullying somebody. He went to defend the kid.”
Along with the special connection, restoring the truck was one fitting tribute by Chuck who shares Derrick’s personality, says Jeannine, Derrick’s stepmother.
“Chuck takes great pleasure in restoring things to order,” she said. “Chuck’s that guy that everyone in Goodland knows and loves.”
On May 1, 2005, Chuck was watching television and heard an American soldier had been killed in Iraq. The normal order of life of the old dying before the young, changed for the family.
“I was just getting to go to work. It was pretty early,” he said.”I remember thinking ‘I’m glad it was just one soldier instead of six or seven.’
“I walked outside, and there was a car there,” Chuck said. “I saw the car doors open and two military guys got out. It just hit me and I knew.
“If I can get in my pickup and just go, and they can’t catch me,” it won’t be true, Chuck said. But “I already knew. I stepped off the curb and my knees buckled.”
“You just don’t think kids who are always pleasant and just good guys could be harmed,” Jeannine said. “When I first heard, I thought, it can’t be Derrick.”
The family is patriotic, and Derrick was influenced by his grandfather who was in World War II. Derrick’s sister joined the Coast Guard, and his brother, the Air Force.
Derrick is buried next to his grandfather and grandmother at the farm in Ransom. The soldier is remembered also with a scholarship and Derrick’s Place, at the farm.
It took about three years, and Chuck has come to terms with his son’s sacrifice without his knees growing weak.
With your own children, the bond is so different than with anybody else in the world, Jeannine said.
“He was doing what he believed in,” Chuck said. “We got to see him grow and what kind of person he was going to be. I’m sure he was going to be successful.”
“Derrick did what he thought he should do,” Jeannine said. “He thought he could make a difference.”
“Chuck has a really positive attitude. He says, ‘I got to see who he was as an adult.”’
“It’s gets easier, you remember the good parts,” Chuck said. “It’s easy for us to talk about Derrick but there’s so many families where the shoe fits the same.
“If you’re in the military, it’s a sacrifice.”