Va. Marine, Killed in Iraq, Is Recalled for Selflessness

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Nicholas Rapavi grew up in Northern Virginia, and according to his high school principal, "to say Nick was a great kid was an understatement."

He had wanted to be a Marine "since before high school," his mother said last night. He had realized his ambition and was "proud to serve his country," she said.

On Friday, Cpl. Nicholas P. Rapavi, 22, who was raised in the Springfield area of Fairfax County and was on his third overseas deployment, died of wounds suffered in combat in the Anbar province of Iraq. The Pentagon announced the death yesterday.

"We are all very proud of him," his mother, Cathy Rapavi-Burnley, said last night from her home in the Newington Forest neighborhood. She said he was "a true American hero we were blessed to have as our son, brother and friend."

He was "probably the most unselfish person you could imagine" -- caring, helpful and concerned not about himself but about the welfare of his Marine squad, she said.

She said she had been told that when he and his men approached a gate last week while on patrol, something about it seemed suspicious. Rapavi had his squad "stay back while he went through," she said.

He was shot through the neck, she said, and died surrounded by his Marine brothers.

Jan McKee, principal of Bryant Alternative High School in the Alexandria area of Fairfax, recalled him as "full of life."

At one point in his teenage years, Nick "wasn't thrilled about school," his mother said. But after the transfer to Bryant, McKee said, "he settled in and did fine."

He graduated in 2003 and enlisted immediately in the Marines, his mother said. His first deployment took him into combat in Afghanistan, where he survived an ambush and won a Navy Achievement Medal, his mother said. He also held many other medals.

A second overseas deployment included missions in Africa and Iraq. The most recent deployment began at the end of July, his mother said.

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

In the Marines, his mother said, his goal was "to be the best of the best." After his enlistment was completed, she said, he hoped to start college.

Family also was important to him, she said.

Three years ago, while on leave, he and his younger brother Christopher entered a five-kilometer Halloween race in Arlington with their father, Paul, who is a dentist and avid runner.

Nick Rapavi wasn't a competitive runner, but he entered to spend time with the family, his mother said.

The father came in first. Christopher, then 15, and Nick finished well back, but together. They were listed in 72nd and 73rd place, respectively, one second apart.

Other survivors include a brother, Jonathan, and all four grandparents.

On a recent leave, Rapavi returned to Bryant "and saw all of us," the principal said. "It meant a lot to all of us."

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