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Close-knit town devastated by Marine's death
By Michael Puente Daily Herald Staff Writer
Posted Saturday, November 13, 2004
The American flag outside Inverness village hall is flying at half-staff in remembrance of a hometown hero who died this week fighting for his country halfway around the world.
On Friday morning, a short prayer was said at St. Nectarios Greek Orthodox Church in Palatine for 22-year-old Marine Cpl. Peter J. Giannopoulos, who was a member there.
Later today, the church will say another prayer for Giannopoulos at the start of its 30th-anniversary dinner at a Rolling Meadows banquet hall.
"It's hard. You're really not trained for this," St. Nectarios pastor the Rev. Peter Balkas said Friday. "There is nothing you can say. No parent should have to bury a child."
Giannopoulos died Thursday while fighting in the Babil Province in Iraq, about 50 miles outside the city of Fallujah. A 2000 graduate of Fremd High School in Palatine, he was assigned to the Marine Corps Reserve's 2nd Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, out of Waukegan.
He had been serving in Iraq since mid-September.
The U.S. Department of Defense reported Giannopoulos died as a result of enemy action.
Giannopoulos' family got word of his death Thursday when two Marines arrived at their Inverness home to deliver the news. On Friday, family and friends gathered there to bring comfort to each other.
Mark Neiweem, a social studies teacher at Fremd, remembers Giannopoulos well. Giannopoulos, who was a National Merit Scholarship finalists and was a goal tender for the school's varsity ice hockey club, was a student in Neiweem's American government class.
"The Marines deserved (Giannopoulos) and he deserved the Marines. I knew Peter and I knew what he wanted. He knew what he was doing," Neiweem said.
Although students did not have class on Friday, Neiweem and other Fremd teachers arrived to the school for training sessions. Neiweem said he learned of Giannopoulos' death while listening to the radio on his way to work Friday morning.
"It was devastating to hear. It's been a tough day here. Nobody knows what to say," Neiweem said.
Having taught hundreds of students during his 26 years at Fremd, Neiweem remembers Giannopoulos as having a "strong sense of conviction."
According to Giannopoulos' father, Peter enlisted in the Marines when he was only 17 years old.
Neiweem said Giannopoulos took a route that other students of his academic ability did not.
"He was actually a Marine before he went into the Marines," Neiweem said. "I have no doubt that he served his country with honor. We need more people like Peter."
Inverness Village President John A. Tatooles contacted Giannopoulos' family to offer condolences on behalf of the village.
A veteran himself, Tatooles says it's always tough to lose a soldier.
"There's not many words that you can express in these situations. I wanted to let the family know that we feel for them and we recognize their contribution, too," Tatooles said. "I've been through a few of these myself. It's tough on the family. With Inverness being a smaller community, it impacts the community a lot more."
John Giannopoulos, Peter's father, said funeral arrangements won't be made until the family gets final word on when his body will be flown home.
Balkas was told the young Marine's body may not return until Tuesday or Wednesday.
Giannopoulos was the sixth Marine from Illinois to die in Iraq in the past week. He left behind his parents and two younger brothers, one of whom is a student at