On Memorial Day, Chris Gavriel honors a fallen son who died in Iraq, and the service of a daughter who enlisted in the Marines to finish her brother’s mission.
“I gave my kids freedom,” said Gavriel, 64, a Greek immigrant. “They made the choice to serve. . . . I am proud of them.”
Marine Lance Corporal Dimitrios Gavriel, 29, was killed on Nov. 19, 2004, in Anbar Province, Iraq. He gave up a promising career on Wall Street to join the Marines after being deeply affected by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the ensuing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He shared with me a lot of concern,” Chris Gavriel said. “He said ‘Dad, a lot of people are getting killed.’ ”
After her brother died, Christina Gavriel, now 34, put her career as a pharmacist on hold to enlist in the Marines.
“I was surprised, but people react differently to [loss],” Chris Gavriel said. “I saw it as her way of finishing his service.”
Christina, assigned to the helicopter unit at Camp Pendleton, Calif., did not deploy. She finished her term, got married, and has resumed her pharmacy career, her father said.
Dimitrios Gavriel was killed by an Iraqi insurgent inside a home his unit was searching for weapons.
“Dimi faced a barrage of fire,” his father said. “And then a grenade.”
“Dimi” was named for a maternal uncle who died in a training mission while in the Greek Army.
“My wife, Penelope, had known the pain,” said Gavriel, who speaks in a soft voice. “It is, of course, different when it’s your son.”
The family lived in Ohio and Michigan before settling in Atkinson, N.H. Dimitrios Gavriel graduated from Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, N.H., where he was an honors student and all-state heavyweight wrestling champion. He loved to listen to music, tinker with cars, and fish at Plum Island.
His parents moved to Haverhill after Dimitrios headed off to Brown University in Providence, where he studied business.
He was on track to be a Wall Street baron, working as an equity analyst at four major firms. On Sept. 11, 2001, Gavriel had just locked up his bicycle outside his office, a few blocks from the World Trade Center. After the planes hit, he jumped back on his bike to escape before the roads closed.
He called a friend who worked in the towers.
“He was on the phone with him. . . . and the phone went silent,” Chris Gavriel recalled.
Dimitrios was laid off from Bank of America and looking for a job when he enlisted in 2002. The decision shocked his father.
“I was raking leaves in the backyard when he said ‘Dad, I am going to join the Marines,” Chris said, the memory still fresh. “’If I don’t do it now, I never will.’ ”
Chris, who had completed a mandatory Army service in Greece, told his son he was afraid he could die.
“He said, ‘Dad, I could get killed in New York City, too.’ He was not going to waver.”
His funeral at Holy Apostle Sts. Peter and Paul Greek Orthodox Church in Haverhill drew hundreds. A day later, the family flew to Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, where Dimitrios was buried with full military honors.
“I felt he needed to be there, for what he did,” Gavriel said. “He was not political at all, but he was a man of principle.”
Time, and sweet memories of a son so strong he could swing his father in the air, have helped heal grief, Gavriel said.
“Time takes the edge off it,” said Gavriel, who also sought solace in the writings of Greek philosophers. “I don’t cry anymore.”
Memorials in three states honor Dimitrios’s sacrifice. Brown University added his name to Patriots Court, an honor roll of alumni who have died in military service. At Timberlane, a scholarship is given in his name by his parents.
The city of Haverhill placed a memorial marker outside his parents’ home on Chestnut Street. In their front yard, the US and Marine Corps flags fly from a flagpole, guarded by the statue of an angel. His father wears a metal bracelet with his son’s name and service dates, and his metal dog tags around his neck.
“I keep him close to my heart,” Chris Gavriel said. “Always.”
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