Family, friends remember Stow Marine killed on duty in Iraq
Marine Cpl. Joseph Tomci, second from left, stops for a photo in Iraq with fellow soldiers. Tomci, 21, of Stow, was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq, on Aug. 2. Family and friends remember Tomci as being humble, determined and athletic. PHOTO CO
Credit: Jason Hall
Marine Cpl. Joseph Tomci wrote his motivation on the inside cover of his notebooks.
It was one of his favorite quotes: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
But those who knew the 21-year-old Stow native remember a different saying.
It was one Tomci would tell friends when he was on leave from Iraq.
“I’m doing this so you guys don’t have to.”
Tomci, who graduated from Stow-Munroe Falls High School in 2003, was just about two months away from finishing his second tour in Iraq when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi, Iraq on Aug. 2.
A squad leader in the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment, Lima Company, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Tomci rose to a leadership position quickly.
And he was always concerned about the 12 Marines under his command, especially those fresh in Iraq, said Tomci’s mother, Gayle Okonek. While in Ramadi, Tomci wasn’t able to speak to friends and family much because of limited phone service.
“‘Ma, I only got a minute to talk,'” Gayle recalled Tomci saying when he called on Mother’s Day. “‘I’m gonna give up my minutes to the guys.'”
“We’ve got to take care of our younger Marines,” Tomci told his mother. “I think I know what it’s like to be parent.”
‘Made to be a Marine’
Tomci had long wanted to join the military, his stepfather Philip Okonek said, and he decided on the Marines as a teenager.
“I thought he was going to outgrow it, but that’s a mother speaking,” Gayle said.
He didn’t, and Tomci eventually enlisted in the Marines during high school.
He wanted to improve himself, Gayle said, and he also hoped to make the world a better place.
While the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks affected Tomci like it affected most people, Gayle said, it did reinforce his determination to join the military.
On that day, she said, Tomci came home from school, sat on the couch with his family and watched the news coverage of the attacks.
“We talked about how life will be changing for us,” Gayle said.
Tomci was in boot camp just months after graduating high school, and eventually he would be deployed three times while in the Marines – first to Haiti in 2004, then to Fallujah, Iraq in 2005. He was sent to Ramadi in 2006.
Tomci was considering eventually becoming a drill sergeant.
“He always had this presence about him, that he wanted to be strong, be entitled to respect,” Gayle said.
Steve Young, 21, of Stow, said that although Tomci, at an athletic 6 ft., 195 pounds, “was not a guy to mess with,” he could still light up a room with his giant smile and flawless impersonations. He loved movies and recited favorite lines verbatim.
“He’d always be doing something stupid to get people to laugh,” said Joe’s brother, Jason Tomci, 29.
Tomci played high school football and loved being active outdoors, whether it was camping, hunting or fishing.
He was also patriotic.
“He was made to be a Marine,” said Young, a senior marketing major at Kent State. “He believed in what he was doing over there.”
While in Iraq, students from Fishcreek Elementary School in Stow sent letters and care packages to Tomci. The class connected with Tomci through Joe’s father, John Tomci, according to the Okoneks. John Tomci, who is battling cancer, could not be reached for this story.
Tomci had several close friends, including Young, who after their friend’s death got matching tattoos of a red star surrounded by the words, “We will never forget, Joseph A. Tomci.”
All told, 15 friends got the tattoo, and his stepfather said he’s considering getting a similar one.
On the morning of Aug. 2, three Marines came to the Okoneks’ home in Stow to deliver the news of Tomci’s death.
“To be honest, it’s still very surreal,” Jason said.
Calling hours and the funeral were the following week, and the outpouring of support was tremendous, Gayle said.
The funeral procession blocked off traffic along state Route 8, U.S. Route 224 and Interstate 76 as people lined roads and overpasses, waving flags and saluting.
Back at home, neighbors hung flags. Friends visited. Strangers donated money, and businesses brought food.
Most recently, a memorial service was held at Stow-Munroe Falls High School on Aug. 22, where friends and others spoke about Tomci.
It was touching, said Rick Bailey, principal of Stow-Munroe Falls High School, and one thing specifically stuck in his mind.
One of Tomci’s friends, speaking to the audience, recalled a familiar quote.
“He does what he does so (we) don’t have to.”
Contact assistant managing editor/Web Ryan Loew at [email protected]
• As of Saturday, 2,666 U.S. soldiers have been killed in Iraq. Following Joseph Tomci’s death, his friends
created the Cpl. Joseph Tomci Memorial Fund to aid the families of fallen servicemen and women. Donations can be made at any Huntington National Bank branch.