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The Final Duty Station This forum is presented by Retired GySgt Bill Conroy. It is a listing of those that have received orders for their final duty station. These Marines have given their all. We now give our honor.

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Old 07-13-2004, 00:24 AM
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The death of a Marine, the life of a gentle man

Taunton Gazette Staff Writer

DIGHTON -- A picture of her stepson in the military newsletter "Desert Rose" says it all for Jane Van Gyzen. He’s crouched down talking to an Iraqi child.

"I said, ‘Look, he’s not with all the uniforms and guns, but helping a child.’"

John J. Van Gyzen IV, 21, a Marine from Dighton, was killed July 5 in the Al Anbar Province of Iraq as a result of enemy action. That’s how he died.

Since then family and friends have gathered to share tears and laughter and talk about how he lived.

John loved children, Jane said. He was good-natured and generous and could play with his nieces and nephews for hours on end.

His niece Kennedy Trond, 7, had this to say about her "Uncle Buddy:"

"He was nice and he was kind," though she did add one complaint: "He always beat me at games."

Kennedy drew a portrait of John in his Marines uniform that his family plans to frame. So what, if he looks a little pear-shaped? In terms of showing how much Kennedy loves her uncle, it’s a perfect likeness.

Kennedy and all her first-grade classmates at St. Mary’s School in Taunton sent John dozens of cards in Iraq for his 21st birthday on June 16. All 24 cards say "Happy Birthday Uncle Buddy," Jane reported with a laugh.

Jane, who works in the billing department at Morton Hospital and MedicalCenter, sent the cards along with a care package full of goodies from her and her co-workers. John called from Iraq to tell her how much it meant to receive the gifts from home.

He slept with a photo of Kennedy in his bunk to remind him of what he was fighting for.

This is the story of a boy who grew into a brave and gentle man, who died fighting for his country. Of a grieving family. And of a community that lost one of its own.

Van Gyzen’s mechanical drawing teacher at Dighton-Rehoboth Regional High School Ed Ranney put it this way:

"My heart goes out to his family. Someone’s missing from the community. A piece of the puzzle is missing," he said.

Family ties

John’s father, John J. Van Gyzen IV, said his son was generous almost to a fault. He’d give him expensive gifts, like remote-controlled cars, for Christmas or his birthday only to find John had given them away to a friend. He liked to make people happy.

John said his son was his "best friend."

The elder Van Gyzen was a truck driver when John and his three sisters were little. In later years, he tried to make up for the times they’d missed, he said.

Father and son liked to go on adventures together, snowmobiling, sledding, bungee jumping. They’d goad each other on. One would say, "I’ll do it, if you will." Then the other would have to try it.

Jane would get calls from Little John, saying things like, "We’re going skydiving. Want to come along?" That was going to be their next big adventure, she said.

Often it was the mishaps that were the most memorable, Big John said. Those were the stories they’d sit around telling later.

Van Gyzen recalled the time he took his son and a friend fishing in Mount Hope Bay. The friend jumped in, prompting Little John to ask his dad, "Do you think there are sharks in there?"

"You’ll be the first one to know," the elder Van Gyzen said mischievously, pushing his son in for an unexpected dunk.

Then there was the time Big John and Little John went dirt biking. Little John found what looked to be the perfect snow mound to jump, only to find out it was a pile of manure thinly coated in snow.

Needless to say, he rode home in the back of the truck.

"There were times we’d get mad at each other, but we’d laugh about it later," Big John said.

"Everytime I saw him, I always gave him a kiss and a hug and told him how much I loved him," he said.

He remembered once giving his son a hug when he visited him at D-R High School. Little John got embarrassed, his dad recalled with a chuckle.

But then he added: "I bet there were kids who were saying to themselves, ‘I wish it could be like that with my dad’."

Van Gyzen said his son was by no means perfect. He got into his share of trouble, like any teen-ager.

There was the time John asked if he could go driving with one of his best friends Al DiBonaventura. John had just gotten his learner’s permit, but Al was older and had his license, or so Big John thought.

Jane saw the two boys driving around with girls in the back seat and asked her husband what was going on. It turns out Al, who had a goatee and looked older, was actually even younger than John.

"He was not a perfect boy or an angel, but there wasn’t a bad bone in his body," Van Gyzen said of his son.

Circle of Friends

Jamie Budd, who dated John for most of their years at Dighton-RehobothRegional High School, said he never got ruffled or lost his sense of humor.

Jamie, an emergency medical technician who volunteers for Rehoboth’s ambulance service, recalled the time he accompanied her to a horse show in which she was competing.

She asked him to hold her horse. A few moments later, she heard the dreaded words, "loose horse," and turned to see horses running around and people panicking, but there was John, the one non-equestrian, in the middle of the chaos calm as can be, still holding fast to her horse.

Jamie said she and John were no longer together, but he was her first love, and she’ll always love him.

"John was such a good kid. If I ever wanted to give up on something, he would give me the strength to keep going. John would do anything for anybody. He had such a good heart," she said.

DiBonaventura died while John was on his first deployment to Iraq, a victim of the Station nightclub fire in West Warwick, R.I. , in February 2003. At first, his family didn’t tell John, not wanting to upset or discourage him. But eventually they decided he had a right to know, Jane said.

The two boys were best friends with another D-R high school student, Jonathan Packer. When Little John was killed, Packer came to Big John’s door.

"It broke my heart. He said, ‘Dude, I’m the last one’," John Van Gyzen said.

The content of his character

If Van Gyzen could have one last word with his son, he’d tell him how very proud he is, he said.

"He’s a hero. They all are," he said, choking back tears.

The fact we didn’t find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq changes nothing, he said. John was fighting for freedom, fighting for his country and helping to topple a brutal dictator.

"He didn’t die in vain. To see the people and the joy on their faces at being free -- he was always saying the true Iraqi people were grateful and friendly," his father said.

Jane Van Gyzen added: "We just see the bad stuff, but the kids are just like our kids."

Little John spent his early years growing up in West Warwick.

His mother Dotti Arsenault, who still lives in West Warwick, said John was always an "easygoing kid." Growing up the only boy in a house with three older sisters, he had to be, she said.

She recalled the time she walked into his room, and there was Little John in a dress his sisters had put on him. Dotti got mad and reminded them he wasn’t one of their dolls, but he just let it roll off his back and enjoyed the attention, she said.

"I would just like to be able to tell him how proud I am of him and how much I love him. If I could have one more day with him, I’d tell him that," Dotti said.

John went to live with his father and stepmother in Dighton when he was about 12. He added two stepsisters to the tally, for a total of five sisters.

"I said, ‘We’re the Brady Bunch’," Jane said.

At that time, Big John was working third shift, and the other kids were a bit older. Jane and Little John used to enjoy going grocery shopping together. They’d devise games to make it more fun. In one, they’d try a different kind of squash on each trip.

"He’d ask me, ‘Do I have to eat it?’ and I said, ‘How can I make him eat it when I don’t want to’," Jane recalled, smiling.

John was awarded the John Berger Award for good character in his senior year at Dighton-Rehoboth High School. Only one vocational student a year is given the honor.

Vocational department head Ken Labonte said John, who majored in mechanical drawing, was a "real gentleman of a student, always polite, soft-spoken and helpful."

Ranney, John’s drafting teacher, assigned John to outside projects that had to be perfect. That says a lot about the quality of his work, Labonte said.

Ranney said John was always ready with an amusing story, but when it came time to work, he’d buckle down.

He was the one to jump up, to help move tables, whatever needed to be done. He’d say, "Do you need anything else done?" There’s always one kid who "sparks the class, in a good way. That was John," Ranney said.

"He was a rural American kid, one of the guys, fun-loving, liking life. It’s hard to believe this happened," Ranney said.

"I think he had the American spirit. You can see this kid playing in his yard or out in his community doing things. He didn’t just sit around. I’m sure it was the same way in the military. What he did in high school carried over. He had a stand up character," Ranney said.

Always faithful

John signed up for the Marines even before he graduated from D-R High School in June 2001. He did it out of a sense of patriotism and a desire to travel and see the world, Jane said.

Big John said he’s proud his son enlisted even before Sept. 11, 2001. He wasn’t just jumping on the bandwagon.

John was with Dotti on Sept. 11. She remembers vividly watching the attacks on television and her son’s reaction.

"John looked at me and said, ‘Take me home. I’m calling my recruiter. I want to go now’," she said.

"He didn’t run away. He ran toward it," his father said.

Jane said her family has pulled together to help each other get through this crisis. Everyone’s pitching in, be it with food, a kind word or helping with arrangements.

"We’re a family that laughs a lot. We tease a lot. Those who can’t take it, get picked on all the more," she said.

"We have to stick together. It’s hard, and it will be hard for a long time,"she said.

Big John, who’s a mechanic, is in the process of buying the Getty gas station in Somerset. He was about to make his American Dream of owning his own business come true when news came of John’s death.

It’s not easy carrying on, he said, but work helps take his mind off his grief. His hope had been his son would join him in the business, at least for a few years, while pursuing his own dream of becoming a state trooper.

"I told him, ‘You have a job waiting for you’," Big John said.

He said the outpouring of support from the community has been overwhelming. Complete strangers have offered to help in any way they can.

"He belongs to everybody now," Van Gyzen said.

GyBill U.S.M.C.
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