Friends remember Nicholas Arvanitis
SALEM - Cpl. Nicholas Arvanitis, an Army squad commander killed Friday in Iraq, had many sides.
He was a talented guitarist and a heavy metal enthusiast who turned down a scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston to join the service.
He was a high school wrestler involved in sports throughout his childhood, from Little League and soccer to karate. Above all, friends and family say, the 22-year-old Salem native was a friend.
"He was a very caring person who put his friends and family before everything else," said Keith Stickney, who had been friends with Arvanitis since first grade. The two wrestled together at Salem High School and graduated in 2003.
Stickney, 21, of Salem, said although Arvanitis was at a bit of a disadvantage because he hadn't been wrestling since middle school like some of his teammates, he loved it and enjoyed every match and workout.
"He would get into a position and then he would just look backward toward the coach and the bench and say 'What do I do now?'" Stickney said yesterday. "It was hysterical to watch somebody do that."
Arvanitis was killed Friday - the day after his 22nd birthday - by an enemy attack in Bayji, a city in northern Iraq. The death has shaken his family, friends and others who knew him, who are now left with only memories.
They recalled yesterday how Arvanitis loved putting smiles on the faces of those around him.
"The thing I'll remember most about him is his smile," said Marty Claussen, the band director at Salem High School. Arvanitis played guitar in the school's jazz ensemble and even picked up the sousaphone when the marching band needed him.
It was his sophomore year and the band had been invited to march in the Tournament of Roses parade in Pasadena, Calif. The jazz ensemble was invited to play at a ceremony for all of the band directors in attendance, and Claussen said he knew he needed Arvanitis on guitar. But he needed to be able to participate in both performances, and, since he couldn't march with his guitar, he picked up the large tuba and learned to play.
"He was very versatile, but the musician stuff was far outweighed by the person he was," Claussen said.
Stickney said Arvanitis was one of the best guitarists he has ever heard and remembered watching Arvanitis warm up before band practice with Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever."
Arvanitis' ability to fit in with musicians and athletes in the sometimes difficult social landscape of high school was a testament to his personality, Claussen said.
"He got along with everyone. Sometimes things can be a little cliquey, but he definitely bridged that," he said.
David Carter of Salem grew up with Arvanitis. Carter said Arvanitis was his first friend when he moved to Salem around second grade.
"He was just crazy, always having a good time and trying to see everyone happy all the time," Carter, 21, said. "There was nothing better than him."
The friends spent some time together in August, just two weeks before Arvanitis left for Iraq with the 3rd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division. It was his second trip to the region; he had been stationed in Afghanistan in late 2004.
"He loved being in the Army, he loved talking about it, he loved his friends there and that's why he wanted to go back out there," Stickney said.
Carter said they had been making plans to go to a Red Sox game when Arvanitis returned.
"What he said to me before he was leaving was he was doing it for him, us and Robert," Carter said.
Arvanitis had been close friends with Lance Cpl. Robert Moscillo, a 21-year-old Marine from Salem who died in May.
Stickney and Carter said they always knew Arvanitis would join the service. Three of his role models, his wrestling coach, a history teacher and Stickney's father, had all been Army men and he was always "intrigued" by it, Stickney said.
"I knew that's what he wanted to do, and I told him 'If that's what you want to do, do it well,'" Carter said.
Arvanitis' sister, Kimberly, was an Air Force police officer who also served in Iraq.
"He joined knowing we were at war, knowing he was going to a combat unit," she said Sunday. "He felt he was fighting for a cause, he believed in what he was doing."
The family is working out funeral arrangements. Kimberly Arvanitis has asked Claussen to arrange for some Salem High trumpet players to play at the service.
From the Eagle Tribune
Nicholas Arvanitis killed by small arms fire