ATKINSON — There's no question Jeremy Graczyk was not an ordinary person.
While those who knew him may say he was a kind, fun-loving guy just like anyone else, the 33-year-old Atkinson man was more than that.
Not only was he the valedictorian of his graduating class at Timberlane Regional High School, but Graczyk went on to graduate from the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy. He was a longtime Marine with an indomitable spirit who was honored countless times for service to his country.
Graczyk, on a monthlong leave from the military, died while "BASE jumping" in Switzerland, according to Maj. Jeffrey Landis, public affairs officer for the U.S. Marine Corps.
All James Lamb knows is he wouldn't be alive if not for the stranger who stopped him from bleeding to death and struggled to pull him from a smashed, overturned minivan on an isolated road in Mexico.
Graczyk and his companion, fellow Marine Kent Kroeker, stayed with Lamb — his hip broken, legs crushed and arm nearly severed — for two hours until paramedics arrived to help.
"I'm devastated I never got a chance to thank him in person," Lamb said last night from his Lincoln, Neb., home. "Thirty-three years old is too early."
Despite a slight limp, Lamb said he has recovered from the Nov. 17 accident. He said he was lucky to finally meet Kroeker and hoping to meet Graczyk as well. Then, he got a call from Kroeker on Tuesday — the day Graczyk was killed.
Graczyk, known for his love for adventure, had been parachuting from the side of a mountain, Landis said. No further details were available on what went wrong.
Lamb, 34, and his wife, Tyley, 35, said they were shocked to hear the news. So were others who knew and loved the Atkinson man.
"It is really awful," said Atkinson resident Steven Lewis, who had known Graczyk and his family for years. "He was probably the nicest young man."
Lewis said his son, Garrick Lewis, and Graczyk grew up together. They even joined the military at the same time, he said, describing Graczyk as "fearless."
The two recently went parachuting together, the father said.
Jeremy was a true American," Lewis said through tears. "He was a kind, warm, full-of-life true American guy who loved his country."
Lewis called Graczyk "a leader among leaders in the military."
Landis said he didn't know Graczyk, but had heard a lot about him.
There was a reason for that — and it's not just because Graczyk served his country for more than a decade, much of that time spent in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Graczyk was recognized more than two dozen times for his military service, receiving medals, commendations and other honors since being commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1999. He was most recently assigned to a unit in Quantico, Va.
"He was about two weeks into his leave," Landis said. "He was a well decorated Marine with special skills."
But to those who knew him back home, Graczyk was the former Timberlane soccer captain who would return to his alma mater to talk about the importance of teamwork and loyalty.
When visiting Timberlane eight years ago, the 1995 graduate told of how he was inspired by the work of his military colleagues in Iraq. Graczyk said he organized soccer games for children there and also American forces and Iraqi civilians, building relations between the two countries.
Graczyk also had a way of bridging gaps between people back home as well.
"He is the kind of kid (where) there was no generational gap," Lewis said. "I'm 61, he's 33, he would talk to me like an equal. I don't know anybody that disliked Jeremy. ... He was a wonderful role model."
Lewis praised the Marine's parents, James and Darlene Graczyk, for how they raised their son.
Atkinson Board of Selectmen Chairman William Bennett said he has known the Graczyk family for years and was saddened by the news.
My son grew up with him," Bennett said. "He didn't deserve it; he was a really good kid."
A woman who answered the door at the Graczyk home last night said the family was having a tough time and not ready to comment.
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