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Three Minnesotans killed in Iraq on the same day
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Staff Sgt. David Day, shown here being sworn in as an officer with the St. Louis Police Department in Feb. 2004, is one of three Minnesota National Guard members killed in Iraq Monday. (Photo courtesy of the St. Louis Park Police Department)

Undated — Three National Guardsmen died on the same day in Iraq in the deadliest day for Minnesota soldiers since at least the Vietnam War.

All three were members of the Montevideo-based 151st Field Artillery. Two of them married in the fall, just before they left for New Jersey on their way to Iraq.

The soldiers were identified as Staff Sgt. David Day, of St. Louis Park; 1st Lt. Jason Timmerman of Tracy, and Sgt. Jesse Lhotka of Appleton.

The Defense Department said three soldiers died and eight were wounded at about 8 a.m. Monday when a roadside bomb detonated while an injured soldier was being cared for. That soldier had been injured in a convoy accident caused by a civilian vehicle, the Defense Department said.

Defense officials would not confirm that the Minnesota Guardsmen were those killed on Monday, but no other military deaths were reported that day.

LaVonne Day, David Day's grandmother, said the family was told that Day was checking on an overturned Humvee when a roadside bomb went off, killing him.

"This Humvee was on its side, tipped over, and he went over to see if anybody was hurt when it blew up," she said.

"He was going to help. That would be David, that would be exactly him."

LaVonne Day said her grandson was loved by his family and community, active in sports, and an Eagle Scout. She said he joined the National Guard so he could pay for his training to become a police officer.

Day had been a member of the St. Louis Park Police Department for about eight months before his deployment to Iraq. He had married his high school sweetheart just before he left last fall. Police Chief John Luse says Day was an ideal police officer and person.

"As the father of two daughters, I can tell you that David Day was the type of young man every father wants his daughter to marry. He was honest, decent and hard-working," says Luse. "This is a sad day for the St. Louis Park Police Department and our community. Our hearts are broken."

Police Capt. Kirk DiLorenzo says Day kept in touch with members of the force through e-mail. He says the last message they got from Day was a few days before he died.

"He had mentioned that it would be nice if we sent him some patches off of our uniforms, because there was a board placed up in the area where they congregated," says DiLorenzo. "And all the soldiers that were also police officers were putting up patches from the various agencies."

DiLorenzo says the package with the patches is on its way over. Another St. Louis Park police officer is currently serving in Iraq. They say he's aware of Day's death.

A second Minnesota soldier reported killed was also newly married, Sgt. Jesse Lhotka of Appleton. His grandmother, Arvilla Lhotka, says she she was told Jesse died in an explosion caused by a roadside bomb.

"I thought, 'No. It can't be him.' He is such a nice gentleman," says Arvilla Lhotka. "The last I saw him was at his wedding last September. He said, 'Grandma, I'll come and see you when I get out of the service.'"

The last I saw him was at his wedding last September. He said, 'Grandma, I'll come and see you when I get out of the service.'
- Arvilla Lhotka, of her grandson Sgt. Jesse Lhotka

Lhotka says she was told her grandson was one of three soldiers who went to the aid of troops in an overturned Humvee.

Jason Timmerman was a graduate of Dakota State University in Madison, South Dakota. He taught mathematics last school year at Lake Benton High School.

William Delaney, the school's principal, didn't know Timmerman himself -- this is his first year with the district -- he said students and staff said Timmerman had a "zeal for learning and helping students learn."

"Many times they mentioned they'd got one of their own over in Iraq," Delaney said.

In a biography he posted on the Dakota State Web site, Timmerman said he loved the outdoors. He said his philosophy on successful teaching included a need to make a personal connection with each student.

The mayor of Marshall, Bob Byrnes, says Jason Timmerman grew up on a farm just north of Marshall, near the tiny town of Green Valley. He says the news of Timmerman's death began circulating on Monday.

"Beginning last night, there was some word around the community. Then of course this morning, word spread when it became more public and some of the media reports were out," says Byrnes. "I think it's really a mixture of sadness and shock."

Byrnes says Timmerman and his family were well-known and well-respected people in the Marshall area.

Timmerman's younger brother, Travis, is also serving in the Guard in Iraq, Rep. Marty Seifert of Marshall said.

The three were part of the 151st Field Artillery based in Montevideo, which includes units from Marshall, Olivia, Morris, Ortonville, Appleton, and Madison. About 330 members of the 151st mobilized in the fall for a deployment set to last 12 months to 18 months, said Guard spokesman Maj. Kevin Olson.

Their deaths bring to 16 the number of Minnesota service members who have died in military operations in Iraq. More than 2,000 Minnesota Guard soldiers and airmen are deployed in Iraq and seven other countries, Olson said.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, whose district includes the hometowns of all three soldiers, issued a statement of condolence.

"My heart goes out to the families and loved ones of these three brave soliders who lost their lives this past weekend," Peterson said. "While we pause to reflect on these three Minnesotans, we also continue to pray for the safe return of all of Minnesota's troops who are serving abroad and risking their lives each day to ensure our safety at home."

At the Legislature, the House acknowledged the soldiers' deaths with a moment of silence before their afternoon session.

(MPR reporters Cara Hetland and Brandt Williams, and The Associated Press, contributed to this report)