Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Marine Cpl. Joseph A. Tomci

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Cpl. Joseph A. Tomci, 21, of Stow, Ohio

Cpl. Tomci was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejeune, N.C.; killed Aug. 2 while conducting combat operations in Anbar province, Iraq.

Family says Cpl. Joseph Tomci, 21, was proud to serve country. Pen pal of elementary pupils remembered as hero who touched many lives

By Julie Wallace
Beacon Journal staff writer

STOW - Tracy Piatt sat down Wednesday to compose ane-mail through a steady stream of tears.

Addressed to the parents of her former second-graders at Fishcreek Elementary School in Stow, she informed them that Marine Cpl. Joseph Tomci had been killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq earlier that day.

Tomci, 21, of Stow, had been the pen pal of her class for two years -- a local link to a faraway land for Piatt's young charges.

They made him birthday cards and staged parties in his honor, singing Happy Birthday to the picture of Tomci on a classroom wall. They sent care packages, and they tracked his location on a map.

The young Marine had become their Marine. Now, he was gone.

``I talked to one mother today -- she said she read the e-mail to her daughter, who was in my class two years ago,'' Piatt said through tears. ``And she said her daughter, who is 8, said: `I'm so proud of Joe. He was such a hero.' ''

Tomci, a 2003 graduate of Stow-Munroe Falls High School, was about two months from finishing his second tour in Iraq. He spent seven months there in 2005 -- taking the time to visit Piatt and her class on his brief trip back home.

``He was so proud of what he was doing -- you could tell he cared about making Iraq a better place for the people there,'' Piatt said.

Tomci's father, John Tomci of Stow, said his son, who played football in high school, was known for his ability to do spot-on impersonations and for memorizing every line of his favorite movies and reciting them to the dismay of others watching with him.

That boy, he said, blossomed into a leader after becoming a Marine.

He was in charge of a unit for the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Lima Company, which is based at Camp Lejeune, N.C. His duties involved leading patrols in Ramadi for seven days, then spending the next seven days at the base.

Details of his death aren't available yet; the family only knows that it was from a roadside bomb while on one of those patrols.

His death is not the first to hit the battalion; there have been several this tour, and some on the previous tour. A buddy was killed on the last tour while standing beside Joe, his father said.

According to the most recent numbers, 2,584 U.S. soldiers have been killed during the war in Iraq.

The news of Tomci's death was delivered Wednesday morning by two Marines in full dress uniform, who showed up at his home and at the home of Joe's mother and stepfather, Gayle and Philip Okonek.

``He loved what he was doing,'' said John Tomci, who is battling cancer. ``As a father, that's the highest thing that you can want for your children.''

At his home, where a steady stream of visitors dropped off food and arrived to comfort the family, a portable sign rests in the grass. It reads: ``God Bless You Cpl. Joseph Tomci, U.S.M.C.''

No service arrangements have been made. It's not yet known when Tomci's body will be returned to the United States.

John Tomci said his son was nearing the end of his enlistment, but they hadn't discussed in depth whether he'd re-enlist. But he had talked about possibly becoming a drill instructor -- he felt his combat experience could help him make better Marines of new recruits.

``In a sense, he'd be helping others,'' John Tomci said. ``That was kind of his life's mission.''

Joe's mother, Gayle Okonek, who also lives in Stow, said her youngest son made her proud. Joe has an older brother, Jason Tomci, also of Stow.

``I know this sounds trite because we've heard it over and over, but he always dreamed of being a Marine,'' she said. ``He believed in what he was doing, he believed his service was a benefit to the world.''

His stepfather, Philip Okonek, said Joe took his duties as a leader seriously -- he truly was worried about the Marines serving under him. His mother echoed that sentiment.

``He didn't call home very often this last tour,'' she said. ``He said it was because there were so many men under his care that were on(their) first tour of duty, he wanted to make sure they'd have the opportunity to call home. That's just how he was.''

Piatt said Joe always sent messages through his father to her class in addition to writing whenever he could.

``He was a good kid, a good young man. He just wanted to do good for people,'' she said. ``I wish he knew how many people cared about him. He touched so many lives that he didn't even know about.''

Marine Cpl. Joseph A. Tomci was killed in action on 08/02/06.

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