Monday, October 09, 2006

Nicholas Arvanitis killed by small arms fire

With combat experience in Afghanistan already under his belt, Army Corporal Nicholas Arvanitis had an opportunity that would make the hearts of some soldiers leap: He could stay in the United States instead of shipping out to Iraq.

"He had orders to be a recruiter, and he turned them down," said his sister, Kimberly Arvanitis of Manchester, N.H. "He wanted to be there with his men. He said he felt he wouldn't be doing his duty if he didn't go. He didn't want to be a desk guy -- his place was in the field, fighting with the others."

On Friday, the day after he turned 22, the New Hampshire man was killed by enemy fire near Bayji, a city north of Baghdad, his sister said. That afternoon, an Army major broke the news to his sister, who herself had served in Iraq during a six-year stint with the Air Force that ended in December.

A talented guitarist who chose to enlist rather than use scholarships to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston, Arvanitis was determined to serve after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"When 9/11 came, it changed his whole outlook," said his grandmother, Rita Dill of Salem, N.H. "He said, 'I'm going in, and I'm going in for the right reasons. I want to protect my family and friends.' What can you say to a kid like that?"

Born in Lawrence, Mass., Arvanitis moved with his mother and sister to live with his grandparents in Salem, N.H., after his parents divorced when he was a boy. Though music came first, he also played sports and had been on the wrestling team at Salem High School, from which he graduated in 2003.

"He always had that little wry smile, and the bluest blue eyes and the blond hair," his grandmother said. "He was a handsome boy."

He initially planned to be an Army Ranger, "but when he got to the unit they weren't hard-core enough for him, so he went to join the 82d Airborne," his sister said. He served in C Company, the 1-505 Parachute Infantry Regiment.

In May, he came home for the funeral of Lance Corporal Robert Moscillo, a Salem wrestling teammate, in part to help his friends cope with the loss.

In Iraq, Arvanitis was a squad leader, and he kept in close touch with his older sister. Less than two years separated the two.

"One person said we were more like twins," she said. "We talked at least once or twice a week. I used to ask him about how things were going. . . . He would say, 'I'll tell you this, I'd be lying to you if I said this stuff didn't excite me.' He loved what he was doing."

"He felt like he was helping a nation of people -- that was his belief, that he was doing something truly great in his life," said his father, Richard Arvanitis of Methuen. "I'm trying to hold onto that. It could have been worse. It could have been a drunk driver, he could have been mugged walking down the street. If you're going to go down -- I hate to say it, but he went down on his terms, so it becomes a little more acceptable. Maybe I'm trying to make it more acceptable. It truly is hard."

Corporal Arvanitis also leaves his mother, Maureen Arvanitis of Manchester, N.H., and his step-grandmother, Linda Arvanitis of Lawrence.

Services have not been set, but his grandfather, Leonard Dill of Salem, said the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Salem is dedicating this year's Veterans Day ceremonies to Arvanitis.

Family members had sent packages of presents before his birthday, and he called home several days before he was killed.

"His last words were, 'I love you guys,' " his grandfather said.

From the Boston Globe