Editor's note: We are republishing our story from Sept. 16, 2009, on the death of Matthew Martinek of Bartlett on Sept. 11, 2009, from injuries suffered in Afghanistan in light of the recent controversy over how he died.
By Kerry Lester
Contact information ( * required )
The war on terror has claimed the life of a Bartlett High School graduate for the second time in a year. Pfc. Matthew Martinek of DeKalb died Sept. 11 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany from injuries suffered a week earlier in Afghanistan's Pakita province.
According to a Department of Defense news release, Martinek's vehicle was hit by an roadside bomb. When he and six other soldiers tried to secure the vehicle, it was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade and small-arms fire.
Martinek, 20, was a member of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division based in Fort Richardson, Ala.
According to Maj. Bill Coppernoll of the Army's public affairs office, Martinek joined the service in March 2008 and was deployed to Afghanistan last March.
A 2007 graduate of Bartlett High, Martinek's Facebook profile contained a picture of him in his Army uniform, smiling and flashing a peace sign. A self-professed clown, his favorite quote was listed as, "There is a reason we fall ... to get back up again."
By Tuesday morning, Martinek's page contained dozens of memorial posts from friends and classmates, recalling the person he was. Earlier posts wished him a speedy recovery.
Jacqi Fanella, of Wayne, a Bartlett High School classmate and close friend of Martinek, said she went to school with him for several years.
"He was always getting me kicked out of class," she joked.
Martinek, she said, "always looked at everything in a positive way, never wanted anybody to worry about anything."
He was "dead set" on going into the military. Both of his grandparents and his two older brothers had served in the Army, Fanella said. "He always wanted to follow the family tradition."
After he was overseas, Fanella said Martinek "called me pretty much every week. Every time he could." The pair had wanted to date but were planning to wait until he was scheduled to return home in two weeks' time.
Bartlett High School Principal Kevin Skinkis said he spoke with Martinek's mother, Cheryl, after he heard the news, and that the family intended to keep things private for the time being.
The school held a moment of silence Tuesday morning in Martinek's honor.
Skinkis described Martinek as "a very outgoing student, a very good kid. We are saddened not only for the loss his family suffered, but the whole community."
Almost a year ago to the day, Leonard J. "Lenny" Gulczynski a 19-year-old private first class from Carol Stream and classmate of Martinek at Bartlett, died Sept. 17 from injuries in Baghdad when his Humvee was in an accident.
Skinkis said the Gulczynski family last year donated a flag to be hung in Bartlett High's gymnasium. Initials of fallen soldiers who graduated from the school will be engraved beneath it. As the second known Bartlett graduate to die in the war, Martinek's name will be added under Gulczynski's. Elgin Area School District U-46 spokesman Tony Sanders says the district plans to lower its flags to half-staff.
Martinek's parents contacted Schaumburg's Ahlgrim & Sons Funeral Home about arranging services, a spokesman said. They are believed to be in Germany. Martinek's body is expected to return home sometime next week.
Martinek's family could not be reached for comment.
"I feel it," Fanella said. "He was always the one person to motivate me and push me. He always wanted me to be happy and never worry about everything. Now it's so hard not to have that one person to push you."