When Lisa Casey got the call that her 25-year-old son had been killed while deployed in Afghanistan in November, she didn’t expect to feel numb. She also didn’t expect the overwhelming support that came her way.
Casey, with tears in her eyes, recounted how friends, senators, governors and strangers reached out to offer their condolences after her son, Kirk Takeshi Fuchigami, a U.S. Army officer, had died three weeks into his first deployment in a helicopter crash in the Logar Province of Afghanistan.
“The thought never occurred to us that he wasn’t coming back,” Casey said of the Nov. 20 crash during a ceremony Friday at Spring Valley High School in Las Vegas.
Casey was at the high school with another Las Vegas family whose son died while on active duty to be recognized during a Honor and Remember ceremony. The national organization was founded by George Lutz to provide the families of fallen soldiers with remembrance flags to honor the sacrifices of their loved ones.
This was the fifth year that members of the cross-country team at Spring Valley High School have held a remembrance ceremony, said Coach Jean Rees.
After accepting her flag in the high school theater, Casey thanked Lutz and the students. She said her son loved the military from a young age.
“He went all out, all gusto for everything he did in life, especially the military,” she told the auditorium filled with students.
Also honored on Friday morning was the family of Marine Lance Cpl. Budd Cote, who grew up in Las Vegas. He died in December 2006 in Iraq.
After the ceremony, Casey described Fuchigami as an “exceptional” person. He was a member of Rancho High School’s JROTC, became an Eagle Scout at 14 and got his pilot license at 17. He earned a black belt a year later and when he was 19, he served a two-year mission in Japan with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
He moved to Hawaii briefly before he met his wife, McKenzi Fuchigami, while they were both in training for the military. He was assigned to 1st Calvary Division in Fort Hood, Texas, as a helicopter pilot before he left for Afghanistan, Casey said.
Also killed in the November crash was 33-year-old David Knadle of Tarrant, Texas. He and Fuchigami were both chief warrant officers 2s, and were providing security for troops on the ground at the time of the crash, the Department of Defense has said.
Casey said that while she will always remember her son, she was afraid that he would be forgotten by other people. But receiving the flag and seeing the theater full of high school students, who gave her a standing ovation on Friday, was humbling and overwhelming, she said.
“Events like this are very reassuring that his sacrifice wasn’t in vain,” she said.
Contact Katelyn Newberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.