Immigrant Killed in Afghanistan Granted Posthumous Citizenship
Dawid Pietrek, a Polish immigrant, couldn't vote, run for public office or obtain a U.S. passport. But he signed up to serve a country that wasn't yet his, and last month he gave his life for that country.
By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 2, 2008; Page B03
Pfc. Pietrek, 24, of Bensenville, Ill., was one of four Marines killed by a roadside bomb June 14 in Afghanistan's Farah province. Yesterday, more than 90 mourners gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate Pietrek's life and honor his sacrifice. He was the 489th member of the military killed in Iraq and Afghanistan to be buried at Arlington.
Pietrek's grave was surrounded by a half-dozen wreaths and floral arrangements and a pair of flags, one American and the other a Marine Corps flag. Mourners dressed in dark suits and dresses stood in contrast to Marines in crisp white hats lined up at the rear of the group.
In an e-mail to family, friends and the Daily Herald of Illinois, Pietrek's mother, Dorota, asked that her son's sacrifice be remembered.
"Thank you for keeping him in your hearts and your minds," she wrote in Polish, according to the Daily Herald.
Pietrek came to the United States three years ago on a green card, hoping to attend college and become a police officer, according to the Herald. He lived with two families in Elmhurst, outside of Chicago, as a trained medical caregiver for elderly family members.
Marine Sgt. Dmitry Novak said the Marines, along with other agencies and groups, helped Pietrek's family arrange travel and burial plans.
Novak sent an e-mail to a Polish announcement list imploring members of the community to attend the burial. "It would mean more to the family than can ever be expressed in words," he wrote. Seven of Pietrek's family members traveled to the United States for the burial, six from Poland and one from Iceland.
"They were very, very moved," Novak said after the service. "They were very thankful that so many people actually cared and came out to show their respect and support. It was important for us to show that level of respect to the family and make sure they remember this forever."
Pietrek's mother wanted two things, Novak said. She wanted him to be buried at Arlington and be granted citizenship. Shortly before the funeral service began, the latter came true, as an official from the Department of Homeland Security presented her with her son's certificate of posthumous citizenship.
Pietrek joined the Marine Corps in June 2007, enlisting in Bensenville. This was the rifleman's first deployment, said 1st Lt. Curtis Williamson, spokesman for the 1st Marine Division. In just over a year, Pietrek had received numerous awards, including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the National Defense Service Medal.
Also killed with Pietrek 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. The four Marines were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Twentynine Palms, Calif.
In a note sent to his mother and sister in Police, Poland, after arriving in Afghanistan, Pietrek talked about what he was accomplishing.
"We are helping and protecting these people and providing them with schooling and medicine," he said in the note, excerpts of which were printed in the Herald. "If something should happen to me remember -- this was my decision. We're defending people here and fighting terrorists."