Friday, February 16, 2007

Nickolas A. Tanton dies of injuries in non-combat incident

For the second time in less than three weeks, a San Antonio high school has lost one of its graduates to the war in Iraq.

Pfc. Nickolas Aaron Tanton, 24, died Tuesday from unspecified "noncombat" injuries, according to the Defense Department.

Suddenly, with the war near the end of its fourth year, administrators, teachers and students at Clark High School have been stung by the deaths of two former graduates.

On Jan. 27, Cpl. Timothy A. Swanson, 21, a 2003 Clark graduate, was one of three soldiers who died in Taji, Iraq, after an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle.

Tanton, a 2001 Clark graduate on his first tour of duty in Iraq, is the 25th San Antonian to die there.

"Our hearts go out to his family," Clark Principal Stan Laing said Thursday. "Unfortunately, this is not the first time we've had to deal with this, this year.

"This certainly is a tight community," he said. "We're going to be looking at a campus that's going to be mourning one of our Clark members that we've lost."

Tanton's family declined interviews, but released a statement describing him as a loving, caring son and brother who relished music and laughter.

"Nick was a family guy with a big heart and always knew how to have a good time, whether it was at home or out with his buddies," the statement said.

His life was never "lived as a political statement," the write-up said, adding, "He was an individual who believed that life was meant to be lived, and he meant to live it."

Born on Jan. 20, 1983, Tanton joined the Army on Jan. 13, 2005, and graduated from basic training at Fort Jackson in Columbia, S.C. He received further training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and Fort Sam Houston.

Tanton was serving with the 25th Infantry Division, based at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, and operating out of Kirkuk as a chemical, biological and high explosive identification and defense specialist.

The Defense Department did not specify the nature of Tanton's death, but said it is under investigation.

"We haven't gotten any information on that yet," said Donna Klapakis, spokeswoman with U.S. Army Garrison Hawaii at Schofield Barracks.

No funeral arrangements have been announced.

Regardless of the cause of death, Laing said his school and others in the Northside Independent School District likely will fly the U.S. flag a half-staff on the day of Tanton's funeral, as it did with Swanson. Though it's been several years since Tanton sat in the school's classrooms and walked its halls, some teachers remember him and were saddened to hear of his death, he said.

In just 17 days, with the deaths of Swanson, then Tanton, Clark went from being a local high school with no casualties in Iraq to one of a select few, including MacArthur, Jay and Churchill, that have lost two former students who served there.

"We're involved in all our kids' lives," said Laing. "Any time a tragedy like this takes place, it hits home. It makes you realize how fragile life is."

From the Express News