Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Kevin C. Landeck dies of injuries from I.E.D.

In pictures that are only a week old, Kevin Landeck wears the broad smile his loved ones know so well.

The Wheaton soldier's face is smeared with chocolate cake. He's covered with mud.

Yet his look is one of satisfaction and camaraderie as he celebrates his 26th birthday with fellow soldiers who'd become his brothers.

On the other side of the world, students at Whittier Elementary in Wheaton were contemplating what Valentine's Day wishes they'd send to their local hero and alumnus.

"A lot of them said, 'Be safe, and come home,'æ" said teacher Chris Eriser.

Those 50 Valentines will now go to Landeck's Wheaton home, where his parents await the arrival of his remains.

An improvised explosive device detonated under Landeck's Humvee Friday near Baghdad. It killed Landeck, who was posthumously promoted to captain, as well as Staff Sgt. Terrence Dunn, 38, of Houston.

Friends and relatives have spent the days since then comforting Vicki and Richard Landeck, Kevin's parents, and his sister Jennifer. On Tuesday, Landeck's widow Bethany, also a soldier, arrived in town to grieve with the family.

Friends say Landeck's parents are experiencing a mix of shock, sorrow and anger over their son's death. Part of it is the loss. Part of it is not knowing how long it will be before their son's body arrives so they have something to say goodbye to.

There was frustration over the war, loved ones say, but also a strong need to support their son's commitment and bravery.

"Kevin said he didn't really feel it would help to send more troops over there," said Jill Neis, a cousin of Landeck who corresponded with him frequently while he was overseas. "He said it was just like the Iraqi people didn't seem interested in learning our ways of doing things.

"Before Kevin left for the war, he said, 'I don't want to come back with a limb missing. I don't want to come back in a wheelchair. I either come back as me, or I don't come back.' You always thought about that when you heard something on the news, but you never think it's going to be you," Neis said.

Landeck was also corresponding with Neis' class of fourth-graders at Timber Trails School in Hoffman Estates.

That correspondence was part of routine Landeck had of keeping a conduit open to people at home, helping them understand what he was doing in Iraq and that he was safe.

In one photo he sent home to family and friends, Landeck is shown posing with a small boy overseas.

"Just to let you know, I was one of those little terrors when I was in school," Landeck wrote in an e-mail home. "Nothing too crazy, but I had my days of staying after school, especially in second grade! My second-grade teacher has one of my neighbors in her class, and they will be writing letters to me here soon, too! Kinda weird, I never thought I would hear from my second-grade teacher again, but it is very nice!"

Eriser said Landeck's relationship with students, and answering their questions when they wrote to him, attached a familiar face to military service. That was key to her students understanding Landeck's death and what it meant.

"We were in the perfect position to make sure that our students could learn and understand that persons like Kevin come from classrooms and neighborhoods just like Whittier," Eriser said.

Family friends and relatives said they could see his soft spot for children and his natural leadership qualities from early on in life.

"We moved next door to Kevin when our oldest child was 3, and he'd come over and play with Matt," said neighbor Elsie Saporito. "He was just so sweet with him. Matt looked up to him from the first day he met him and considered Kevin his hero. In fact, when Matt was in fourth grade, he did a paper on why Kevin was his hero."

That paper will be on display at a memorial to Landeck that his family is planning, Saporito said.

Family said Landeck's people skills, leadership ability and drive to have a career that made a difference were what first made him think about joining the Navy Seals, then the FBI. Those attributes also landed him on a career path that took him through ROTC at Purdue University and on to military life.

No one really recalls him living a G.I. Joe childhood with military dreams, but friends said Landeck didn't seem hesitant about going to Iraq.

"He seemed very positive about it," said Carol Ketterhagen. She attended Landeck's farewell party before he shipped out to Iraq. "We were all very upbeat. He was a wonderful young man."

Landeck was set to come home for a couple of weeks in April before heading out to Georgia for more training, said Marilyn Duffy, an aunt.

"We thought for sure he was coming home and everything would be OK," Duffy said. "He said all he wanted to do was come home, sit and watch sports, have pizza and relax. His death was just the luck of the draw, or lack of luck of the draw. We're just asking everybody to pray. It's in God's hands more than anything now."

Landeck's family has not formalized plans for a memorial yet. He is to be buried in a grave at St. Michael's Cemetery in Wheaton donated to the family in honor of Landeck's service.

From the Herald