Marine killed in Afghanistan had strong ties to Glenbard South
Lance Cpl. Kevin E. Oratowski's ties to Glenbard South High School remained strong in the five years since he graduated.
His father, Steve, works as an instructional aide in the special education department and is the head coach of the freshman football team.
Through his dad, Oratowski's former teachers stayed in touch with how the 23-year-old Wheaton resident was doing.
They remember finding out about Oratowski enlisting in the Marine Corps on June 23, 2008. And they were among the first to hear the tragic news that he had died during his first combat deployment.
"I am going to miss him," said Pam Neuner, who taught Oratowski for several years at the Glen Ellyn high school. "Just to know that he's gone now is unbelievable."
Oratowski, a light-armored vehicle crewman, was killed by a roadside bomb Wednesday while in combat in Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.
Military officials said Oratowski was conducting what they called mounted combat operations against enemy forces in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, when the roadside bomb blast occurred.
Word of Oratowski's death reached the Glenbard South community on Thursday. On Friday, teachers and friends were joining the family in mourning.
"It's heartbreaking," said Tom Nussbaum, one of Kevin's former teachers. "Kevin attended our school. He had other siblings go through the school. And his parents are highly involved in the school.
"There's just a hole in your heart," Nussbaum added. "I think the school as a whole has that feeling."
Glenbard South Principal Terri Hanrahan said the school is planning to lower its American flag to half staff and remember Oratowski's service with a message that will be displayed on the electronic sign.
On Friday, Oratowski's parents were at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to claim his remains, friends say.
Hanrahan said school officials are waiting for the parents to return to Wheaton before making any decision about how to honor Oratowski and support his family.
"Quite frankly, we want to work with the Oratowskis to make certain that whatever we do is something they would want," she said.
In the meantime, Oratowski is being remembered as a polite and courteous young man who was proud to be a Marine.
Neuner recalled that Oratowski was quiet during his freshman year of high school. By the time he graduated in 2005, he emerged as a leader who was always willing to help others.
"He was magnetic. He was engaging. He was fun to be around - just full of life," Neuner said.
Oratowski was given numerous service awards: Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon, officials said.
"I can't image the pain that his family is going through," Nussbaum said. "I am certainly honored that he paid the ultimate sacrifice for the things that we take for granted."