When Phil Frank was a teenager, he was always the guy ready to help out any friend who was being attacked by a bully or needed a ride home after her date drank too much at a party.
So after he watched the second plane crash into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, from just a few thousand yards away, it was only natural that he would feel the urge to go out and join the Marine Corps.
That's the word from his father, Roy Frank of Elk Grove Village, as the retired salesman explains what was inside the heart of the young war casualty who inspired Roy and his wife, Georgette, to start the Heart of a Marine Foundation.
"We were living in New Jersey on 9/11 and were watching the World Trade Center burn from on top of a sea wall across the river," Roy said. "I went back to the house. Then Phil came in and said, 'I don't know what's going on but I think I just saw another plane crash into the Trade Center."
"He wanted to quit school right then and join the Marines," Georgette Frank said. "But we convinced him to wait until he graduated."
Phil graduated from high school in New Jersey. The family moved to Elk Grove Village and Phil enlisted at the Marine Corps Recruiting Station in Mount Prospect.
Phil had been studying heating and air conditioning, so the Marine recruiter urged him to get into that kind of specialty in the Corps. But Phil insisted on joining the infantry that does the close-up combat -- and endures the greatest dangers.
"Phil told us, 'Where else can a guy like me become a part of freeing 35 million people from tyranny?" Roy Frank said.
Philip E. Frank arrived in Kuwait as a lance corporal for desert warfare training in February 2004. In March he was moved into Iraq. And on April 8 he was killed by a sniper's bullet.
When a memorial service in New Jersey drew a church full of high school classmates, Roy said, "They told us that at one time or another, Phillip had saved them all," whether it was using his martial arts ability to deal with a bully or sneaking out of his home at 2 a.m. so he could drive an over-imbibing couple home from a party.
Roy said that had continued with Phillip protecting his fellow Marines and the Iraqis.
"On the day he graduated from boot camp at Camp Pendleton, he introduced us to his platoon mates. He said, 'Mom and Dad, these are now my brothers. So these are now all your sons.'"
After Phillip was killed, Roy said he hoped he would die too. "Every time I came home, I would just stare at his picture. I finally told my wife, 'We need to do something. I want you to come up with an idea for something that can turn all this negativity into a positive.' Three days later she said, 'I know. We can start a 501(c)3 foundation to help veterans and people in the military."
Based in Elk Grove Village, the Heart of a Marine Foundation sponsors an aphasia project that gives computers and software to health care facilities teaching veterans to speak again after they suffer traumatic brain injuries.
Its "Walking Tall" project donates a special kind of cane to amputees and disabled vets.
The Heart of a Marine Foundation also sponsors programs to provide clothing and improved living quarters to homeless veterans, and morale-boosting programs such as trips to spas, art exhibits and Chicago sporting events for veterans and their caregivers.
For more information, visit www.heartofamarine.org.