A young Marine from Arlington Heights was killed in Afghanistan Wednesday, only a month into his first tour of duty overseas.
Lance Cpl. James Bray Stack leaves a wife, Katelyn Landeweer Stack, also from Arlington Heights, and their 1-year-old daughter, Mikayla, said his father, Robert Stack.
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Stack was shot in the head during combat, according to papers the military gave the family.
The 20-year-old man had been home-schooled by his parents, Linda and Robert Stack, with curriculum from Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights, where his father teachers junior high science.
Stack was in Afghanistan one month, and letters home had just arrived this week with descriptions of fierce fighting.
He was a rifleman in India Company 3/5 Marines in the 1st division serving in Sangin in Helmand province, considered one of the most violent places in Afghanistan, according to The Associated Press.
"It sounded like he was fired on every day," said his father, referring to James Stack's letters. "He saw men blown to pieces. One man from Chicago died as they were evacuating him. James helped put him in the helicopter and watched him die.
"He said one minute you would be having a good time with your friends and joking around, and the next day they were gone."
The Marine told his family that being based near a river was a great stress reliever. Known as an outdoorsman from his days spent on the central Illinois farm owned by his grandfather, Gene Bray of Long Grove, James Stack enjoyed sitting by the river in Afghanistan and swimming and fishing in it.
In his last letters he commented that he had made it through another day, and he wasn't afraid.
"I can shoot better than they can, don't worry about me, I'm coming home," James Stack wrote.
Robert Stack praised his daughter-in-law, who he said had been living at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego but was visiting her family in this area when she got the news.
"Katie has demonstrated qualities we can all be proud of," he said, "with a young child and to be separated from her husband by a tour of duty."
Katelyn attended both Prospect High School and Christian Liberty Academy.
James Stack became interested in the Marines when he was very young.
"As he grew older he expressed interest to serve his country," his father said. "I think that was what motivated him. He wanted to use his skills. He was a very resourceful young man."
James Stack was a national champion air pistol shooter in the 2008 Junior Olympics and a member of the Arlington International Airgun Club. He played soccer with Christian Liberty and was named Most Valuable Player on the school's track team.
"For a man of his age he was extraordinary, and he was trying to do his very best for the Marine Corps and for his family," said his father, fighting back tears.
"He was a Christian. As a family we are comforted knowing that according to Scripture he's in glory with our Lord. I know we will see him again."
James also has a 16-year-old sister, Megan.
"Freedom is not free," said Robert Stack. "The military pays the price with their own blood. I have no regrets. I was his biggest supporter and biggest fan.
"I can't think of anything that made me prouder than seeing him become a Marine and seeing what he had to go through to earn that title. I didn't appreciate how difficult it is."