Staff Sgt. Cuka, a member of the Yankton unit of the National Guard, died Dec. 4 when a roadside bomb exploded in Iraq.
Cuka was a member of Battery C, 1st Battalion, 147 Field Artillery which began its overseas mission in October.
Pictures from his life brought smiles and laughter to Cuka's widow, Melissa, his mother, Rita Cunningham, and his brother, Dan Cuka. They shared the photos after a press conference Tuesday at Yankton's National Guard Armory.
While Cuka died at the young age of 27, the photos showed he made the most of each day. Many photos showed his playful side.
"He was always making people laugh," Cunningham said, pointing to happier times.
Melissa Cuka agreed her husband found humor in most situations.
"Dan was a big goof-off. He was friends with ?motorheads' and enjoyed working with cars," she said. "He joked around a lot. It was all about having fun."
But some of the most special photos were taken of Cuka sharing quiet, tender moments with his family.
Dan and Melissa Cuka began dating while working together at a Yankton restaurant during spring 1996, when they graduated from Yankton High School. They married April 15, 2000.
"I think (I was attracted by) his sense of humor. He was so down-to-earth and sincere," Mrs. Cuka said. "Sometimes, I thought he was too good to be true. But what you saw is what he was. He was a good, sincere person."
Many of the family photos showed the Cukas together and with their children, Abby, 5, and Alex, 2.
"Here they are, by Alex's favorite spot at Riverside Park," Cunningham said, showing a picture of father and son.
Dan Cuka was a devoted father in every respect, his widow said.
"He was perfect in everything he did. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for those kids," she said. "It wasn't just as a provider. He would get on the floor and play with them. He would take them places and have a good time with them."
The couple spent time talking about their children's future, Mrs. Cuka said.
"We talked about how much fun it was going to be as they got older � to see how much they accomplished," she said. "Dan was so proud of those kids."
While Cuka didn't live to see those dreams come true, the family looks at his passing another way, Mrs. Cuka said.
"We focus on the fact that Dan lived each day of his life the way he chose, based on devotion to his family and his passion for the military. We all believe Dan died doing what he strongly believed in," she said.
"Dan has always been my soul mate, and he will forever live in the lives of our children. Abby and Alex will grow up knowing their daddy is a hero, and they will understand that Daddy did everything for a sound reason which included preparation for an uncertain future."
"I will always instill in them their father's positive feelings about the military," she said.
Cuka took his military duty very seriously, particularly his leadership role and responsibility over others, Mrs. Cuka said.
"Dan was undoubtedly a strong leader and sincerely cared about his men and his colleagues," she said. "He had an impact on everyone he met. We all believe he was special."
The Cukas considered the National Guard as extended family, and that has proven particularly true with last week's tragic death, Mrs. Cuka said.
"My family and I have been overwhelmed by the support we have received since his death, especially through the military support system," she said. "Although we anticipate a long recovery ahead, we know the love, prayers and generosity of so many will pull us through this difficult time."
The support is not limited to the Guards, as they family has been contacted even by strangers, Mrs. Cuka said.
"The community and area have been outstanding. They have offered their prayers and support," she said. "If I didn't know Yankton was home before, I do now. They have given my family so much encouragement."
Dan Cuka served with Yankton Area Search and Rescue, and those members paid a condolence visit to the Cuka family shortly after news of his death. The unit has already retired his call number, the highest honor it can bestow.
"For Dan, the search and rescue unit was a sense of feeling he gave something back," she said. "He felt good about what he was doing for his part of the world."
Support has also poured in from Wilson Trailers of Yankton, where Dan and Don Cuka worked, and from Mount Marty College, which Dan attended part-time and Melissa now attends as a nursing major.
Wilson Trailers has set up a fund to help the family, Mrs. Cuka said. "With Dan, there wasn't a person he couldn't get along with. At work, he had an excellent work ethic," she said.
The Cukas are preparing for a memorial service jointly held for Sgt. First Class Richard Schild, 40, who also died in last week's incident. The service begins at 4 p.m. Thursday at the Yankton High School auditorium.
"I thank God every day for the time I had with Dan. It has been my honor and blessing to call him my husband, my best friend and my soul mate. His smile, sense of humor and warmth are what I will miss most," Mrs. Cuka said.
"I am at peace knowing Dan's work here is finished according to God's plan, and that it was his time to leave this life. I am confident that I will see him again."