PLANT CITY — Two years ago, Plant City High graduate Eric Lembke joined the Army. His brother said Lembke, then working at a grocery store, hoped to give his family a better life by the time his tour in Afghanistan ended next year.
On Friday, the 25-year-old Army specialist was killed when an explosive device hit his vehicle, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. His body was returned Sunday to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Lembke's brother, 47-year-old Robert Lembke, and Robert's wife, Mary, of Denver, said they didn't even know Eric Lembke had been deployed, and they never said goodbye.
Eric Lembke was adopted by his foster mother, Dorothy Lembke, when he was a teenager. At the time, his name was Michael Beckum. He changed it to Eric Lembke when Dorothy took him in.
Because the two were so far apart in age, Robert Lembke said he and his brother didn't get to know each other until later in life, when Robert Lembke came back to Florida from Colorado in 2000 to care for his parents.
Robert lembke remembers how interested Eric Lembke was in the Army. Robert Lembke had served for four years, starting when he was 17, and their father also was a veteran.
At the time, Eric Lembke was working at Kash n' Karry — a good job, but "he wanted to take better care of his family," Robert Lembke said. "He wanted something better to do with his life."
Eric Lembke married young and had two children, now 7 and 3, Mary Lembke said. He and his wife, Mashalle, moved to Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2008.
"He did everything he did to provide for his family," Mary Lembke said. "It's just really heartbreaking."