Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Springfield Marine dies in Iraq

Marine Cpl. Nicholas Rapavi
Marine Cpl. Nicholas Rapavi
Marine Cpl. Nicholas Rapavi often told his parents that while the mission in Iraq was important, his top concern was bringing the members of his squad home unharmed.

While on patrol Friday, Rapavi kept his squad back while putting himself in harm's way by going first through a gate in a situation he thought looked suspicious. He was shot in the neck, his father, Paul Rapavi, said yesterday.

"He felt like these guys depended on him and it was his responsibility to make sure they were OK," Paul Rapavi said. "He lost one of the members of his squad in September and he was devastated by that because these people were his brothers."

Nicholas Rapavi, 22, of Springfield, became the 101st Virginian to die while serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. According to the Department of Defense, he was fatally injured while conducting combat operations in Iraq's Anbar province.

Paul Rapavi said his son had served in Afghanistan and once before in Iraq. He advanced in the ranks to become a corporal and led a squad of as many as 12 Marines. Nicholas had planned to leave the Marines at the end of his four-year term in May and go to college and possibly re-enlist later, his father said.

Although not from a military family, Nicholas had wanted to be in the Marines since he was in high school.

"Early on, he was an avid baseball player, but when he went to high school, everything was secondary to the Marines," said Paul Rapavi, who is a dentist. He said Nicholas did everything he could to prepare himself -- joined the Army ROTC, lifted weights, did pushups, always strove to improve.

He had two younger brothers -- Jonathan, 20, and Christopher, 18 -- to whom he was very close, his father said.

"It's been especially tough for the 20-year old," Paul Rapavi said. "All his friends think of Nicholas as the true American hero. When he joined, they were saying, 'Osama bin Laden's in trouble now.' Nobody's going to get away from Nick."

Paul Rapavi described his son as outgoing with lots of friends, a natural leader. "He was a tough guy but treated people fairly. You didn't cross his brothers, but as soon as he straightened you out, he could be your friend."

Besides his father and brothers, Nicholas Rapavi is survived by his mother, Cathy Rapavi-Burnley.

Plans for a funeral service are incomplete, but his family hopes he will be able to be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, his father said.

Nicholas Rapavi was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Contact staff writer Tina Eshleman at teshleman@timesdispatch.com or (804) 649-6304.

This story can be found at: www.timesdispatch.com