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Marine from Bensenville killed in Afghanistan, Defense Department says

Corps was big dream for Polish immigrant

Dawid Pietrek was a Polish immigrant who had always wanted to join the Marines.


By Russell Working | Tribune reporter
11:12 PM CDT, June 17, 2008

Even as he earned his living as a caregiver for the homebound elderly, the 24-year-old Bensenville resident would run with a full backpack to prepare for the rigors of boot camp.

Pietrek, a private first class, was killed Saturday along with three fellow Marines while supporting combat operations in Farah Province, Afghanistan, the Defense Department said Tuesday. The Associated Press reported the four were killed in a roadside bombing.

"He was doing what he wanted to do," said Bill Rohn of Elmhurst, whose family Pietrek lived with while caring for Rohn's father-in-law. "He wanted to be a Marine."

Pietrek, a rifleman, had just finished his first year in the corps. He entered the service in June 2007 and was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, along with the other three soldiers who were killed, the Marines reported. Pietrek's friends said he was deployed to Afghanistan in April.

He was 21 or 22 when he came to the United States, and the Rohn family hired him in 2005 through a service that provides caregivers.

"He did a great job for us," Rohn said.

At one point, Pietrek returned to Poland for two months, but a relative came to work in his place, Rohn said. That relative e-mailed Rohn to tell him about Pietrek's death.

Pietrek later worked for Gene Ratay, 80, another Elmhurst resident. The young man said the military would help pay for a college education, but Ratay tried to dissuade him from joining.

"I told him not to get involved because of this war that's going on in Iraq," said Ratay, a veteran.

Ratay is the son of Polish immigrants. His house, which had a Polish flag and a plate decorated with the face of John Paul II, provided reminders of the homeland for Pietrek.

One day last year, Pietrek dropped by with a friend and gave his former employer a bumper sticker with the Marine Corps emblem. "They were just going to tell me that he joined the Marines," Ratay said.

Troubled by Pietrek's decision, Ratay didn't put the sticker on his car.

Pietrek's fellow soldiers who died were: Sgt. Michael Toussiant-Hyle Washington, 20, of Tacoma, Wash.; Lance Cpl. Layton Bradly Crass, 22, of Richmond, Ind.; and Pfc. Michael Robert Patton, 19, of Fenton, Mo.