Monday, May 26, 2014 | 5:51 p.m.
Jan Lukac crouched over the bouquets of flowers adorning his son's grave, squinting hard to shield his eyes from the searing mid-afternoon sun.
"This kind of thing you never forget," he said in a thick Slavic accent as he wiped a bead of sweat from his face, propping the medley of red, white and blue plants together atop the soft grass and taking meticulous care they wouldn't get blown over by gusting desert winds.
Joined by his wife at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City, he was among at least 600 who gathered there Monday afternoon for the town's annual homage to patriots— attended, too, by dignitaries including Gov. Brian Sandoval.
Although a decade has passed since John Lukac died at the hands of a suicide bomber in Iraq — making him the first soldier buried locally who was killed during the War on Terror — the memory is still fresh in the minds of his parents, Czechoslovakian-born Jan and Helen Lukac, who visit the gravesite regularly to replenish it with new flowers and grieve the 19-year-old's untimely death.
"Half of my body is still crying," Helen Lukac said, reaching inside her purse for a stack of laminated cards imprinted with a photo of her son. She hands them out to strangers so they'll know how proud he was to serve his country.
"The other side is full of pride to honor him," she said.
The Memorial Day event serves to remind Jan and Helen Lukac that they're not alone in those sentiments. More than 33,500 people have been buried at the cemetery since 1990, said event organizer Bob Garlow, a U.S. Air Force veteran. And each year since 1993, the cemetery has put on the holiday gathering, drawing hundreds of people throughout Southern Nevada.
A few yards away from the Lukacs, Victoria Garcia tied a star-shaped balloon to her father's gravesite. Using a blue marker, she wrote notes on the balloon thanking Julian Govea Garcia for sacrificing years of his youth to serve as a Navy sailor.
Govea Garcia's widow, Marie R.D. Garcia, meanwhile, chatted up a pair of strangers sitting on a nearby bench with tales of her husband's time in Nagasaki, Japan. Her husband was brave, handsome and hardworking, she declared in front of the small audience.
"He was a hero," her daughter chimed in. "My parents, I feel like they're still married to each other."