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thedrifter
03-24-08, 09:45 AM
Marine Corporal NICHOLAS P. RAPAVI
Setting an example on the battlefield
Though squad leader Nicholas P. Rapavi was a short-timer, he didn't shy away from leading a dangerous mission.
By Tony Perry
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 24, 2008

Marine Cpl. Nicholas P. Rapavi was a short-timer. He was about to finish his second tour of Iraq and was going to leave the Marine Corps. He wanted to go to college and maybe become a doctor.

The last thing most short-timers want to do is take undue risks. But the 22-year-old from Springfield, Va., wasn't like most short-timers.

Strong-willed and decisive beyond his years, he was the leader of the 3rd Squad, 2nd Platoon, Golf Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Regiment. He wasn't reluctant to bark out an order. Nor to stand up to officers when he thought they had assigned a foolish mission. And when there was risk, he would not pass it over to others.

So when his squad was assigned a resupply mission in Saqlawiya, an insurgent stronghold in Anbar province, he took the lead. All went well as the Marines made their way to an outpost surrounded by three-story buildings, perfect hiding spots for snipers.

The Marines had just reached the compound when a single bullet struck Rapavi in the neck. He was dead before he hit the ground.

I arrived weeks after his Nov. 24, 2006, death, but Marines still had trouble talking about him without tears welling, unusual for the young and resilient.

"He was like the perfect Marine Corps child -- he knew everything," said Navy corpsman Jacob MacKinnon, 22, of Tulsa, Okla.

Rapavi had told his parents before leaving for Iraq that his goal was to ensure that all the Marines in his squad made it home.

Within hours of his death, Rapavi's assistant squad leader, also a short-timer, extended his time in Iraq so the squad would have continuity. "Out here, we fight for each other," Cpl. Ryan Cavey, 22, of Baltimore, told me.

Rapavi was gone but his example lived on.

tony.perry@latimes.com

Ellie