Beverly man killed in Afghanistan: ‘His heart was as big as he was’
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY firstname.lastname@example.org March 1, 2012 10:40PM
U.S. Marine Cpl. Conner Lowry. | Courtesy NBC5
Updated: March 2, 2012 10:32PM
Grace Lavin came home from school Thursday to see three U.S. Marines gathered around her mom. Instinctively, she knew what had happened and she screamed.
Her older brother, 24-year-old Cpl. Conner Lowry, was dead.
Lowry died in Afghanistan on Thursday while serving as a Humvee gunner while on combat operations in Helmand province. The Department of Defense said the death is under investigation.
Nevertheless, Lowry’s family waited at their home in Chicago’s Beverly community on Friday for a military representative to give them answers concerning their son’s death and tell them when his remains will return home. Up and down their block, yellow ribbons were tied around the trees, a black bunting was fixed to the U.S. flag outside their door.
“If I could say anything to him, I’d say, ‘I love you so much and I’m so proud of you,’ ” Grace Lavin said. “And it wasn’t supposed to happen this way.”
Lowry’s family talked about how popular he had been and how the tall young man was “more handsome than the day is long,” as his mother, Modie Lavin, put it.
“Everybody looked up to him, figuratively and literally,” said Lowry’s brother, Charley Lavin.
And they talked about what he wanted to do with his life.
As a boy, the lifelong resident of the Southwest Side was much like a lot of the boys in his neighborhood — a huge Notre Dame sports fan. He couldn’t get enough of Bulls basketball star Michael Jordan, which was fitting since he was born on the same day MJ won his second slam dunk contest.
“His life revolved around Michael Jordan,” Modie Lavin said. “He had Michael Jordan shoes, shorts, socks, everything.”
Lowry’s mother said he was a “decent athlete” who played football at Brother Rice. Well liked among his peers, Lowry was so vibrant he could “take over the room in minutes,” his brother said.
‘I probably won’t see any combat’
Upon graduating high school in 2006, he went to Kirkwood Community College in Iowa for a couple of years before deciding to enlist in the Marines in 2008 with a couple of buddies.
“He thought it would be good for him, he thought it would be good for his country,” she said.
On Friday, his mother and younger sister remembered how even as he was getting ready to leave he tried to protect them as best he could, even if it meant saying something he couldn’t possibly believe himself.
“I was pretty upset and he saw that, (so) he said, ‘Grace, don’t worry, I’m just going to guard some gate in Europe, I probably won’t see any combat,’ ” Grace Lavin, a junior at Mother McAuley High School, said.
Modie Lavin said she was stunned when Lowry enlisted, saying that hers is not a military family and that she could think of no one who had served.
“I just told him, ‘Please don’t,’ ” she said.
And yet she watched him turn into “an outstanding Marine,” saying, “he got lots of accolades, a big award at Camp Pendleton.”
Charley Lavin said joining the service made Conner “grow up a lot as a person.”
“It made him a man,” Charley Lavin said.
Lowry was four months away from being discharged, Grace Lavin said. When he came home, he planned to fly to Dublin, Ireland, to see the Notre Dame/Navy football game in the fall.
“He couldn’t wait to get back home to South Side, Irish Catholic Chicago,” and hopefully get a job as a Chicago firefighter, said his mother. “That’s all he talked about.”
On Friday, Brother Rice Principal Jim Antos told the students that someone who once walked the same halls had been killed in Afghanistan — the second student from Lowry’s class to die there in the past two years. Army Sgt. Jared Stanker, of Evergreen Park, was killed in November 2009.
Antos, who got to know Lowry at a school retreat and talked to him, sometimes about his own experience in the Army during the Vietnam War, recalled a “good kid.” Antos said the school once again offered to have the Brother Rice student body serve as an honor guard for Lowry, just as it did with Stanker.
‘Full of life, vim and vigor’
Brother Rice football coach Steve Nye said the fallen Marine was all about serving, sacrifice and commitment.
“He worked hard every day to make himself a better player and to make his team better. He was part of some of our most successful teams,” Nye said of his former lineman. “He had a great sense of humor. He was fun to be around, and his attitude was contagious.”
Sister Jean McGrath, principal at St. John Fisher School, where Lowry attended from second through eighth grades, said Lowry was “full of life, vim and vigor.”
Lowry, who played basketball and football at St. John Fisher, was one of five students in his eighth-grade class who later joined the military. Perhaps they were inspired by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that occurred while they were in eighth grade, McGrath said.
“It’s a sad day at St. John Fisher,” she said. “We’re a tight-knit community. (His death) touched the community very deeply.”
Lowry is survived by his mother, two sisters and two brothers.
Contributing: The Associated Press