No one who knew Dimitrios Gavriel, 29, was surprised when he joined the Marines, even though it seemed an unlikely choice for an Ivy League–educated Manhattan research analyst. In 1998, just a few months after moving to New York City, Mr. Gavriel had written in his diary: “I feel like I’m swimming in a sea with sharks working on Wall Street.” Mr. Gavriel meant that in a good way.
“The expression was meant to deliver the message that it’s hard here: ‘It’s like swimming in a sea of sharks, but I am not giving up,’” said Mr. Gavriel’s mother, Penelope Gavriel, 55. What her son meant, Ms. Gavriel insisted, was that working in these conditions was a badge of honor.
“It’s only going to make me a better man,” Ms. Gavriel said her son told her.
It was that same love of a challenge-combined with a fiery patriotism and a desire to take action after the death of two friends on Sept. 11, 2001-that prompted Mr. Gavriel to enlist in the Marines in October 2003. Last Thursday, Nov. 18, Lance Cpl. Dimitrios Gavriel was killed during a battle in Falluja. His family said he was awarded two Purple Hearts on Tuesday, Nov. 23.
Corporal Gavriel did not fit the image of the prototypical U.S. soldier in Iraq: the baby-faced teen from red-state America, looking for a ticket out of small-town life. “Dimmy,” as his friends and family called him, grew up in several different places, but spent his high-school career at Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, N.H. His father, an aerospace engineer, and his mother, a corporate quality-control manager for Dunkin’ Donuts, immigrated from Greece in the 1970′s. (He had one younger sister, Christina, 27.)
Mr. Gavriel attended Brown University, where he concentrated in organizational behavior-the closest area of study to a business major at the artsy school. He also wrestled in the heavyweight division for the school, developing a close circle of athletic friends and fraternity brothers.
He went on, as many young men with certain socioeconomic aspirations do, to enter an analyst program at the investment bank PaineWebber after graduating in 1998, where he became an equity analyst in the real-estate department. From there he joined the research department at J.P. Morgan, then bounced with his research team to Credit Suisse First Boston and finally Banc of America, where he put in 16-hour days crunching numbers and writing research reports until he was laid off in 2002. It was then that Mr. Gavriel made the decision to join the Marines.
One of the biggest questions surrounding Mr. Gavriel’s life and the circumstances of his death is the mystery of why he went to Iraq, considering the other options he had and the certain ugliness of the war. And it’s not as though he was suffering from permanent unemployment woes; in fact, the day before he left to start training, he was offered another finance job, after months of looking.
“He was deeply affected by 9/11, but that was a small part of why he went,” said Matt McClelland, 30, Mr. Gavriel’s best friend and fraternity brother from Brown. “It wasn’t about revenge and payback. He supported the war but wasn’t happy with how they were handling it. I think the way he looked at it was, no matter what side of the aisle you stand on, that’s the most important place in the world right now, there’s no way to turn back and we had to succeed, and he wanted to be a part of that.”
That rationale for volunteering to fight-for wanting to be a part of something important, something unexpected-was very much part of the way Mr. Gavriel envisioned his life and his own abilities. His mother, in compiling a printed eulogy for her son’s memorial service, included these telling excerpts from Mr. Gavriel’s diary, under the title “An American Hero … Our Hero”: “I have heard that Great Men often kept journals-I’d like to be great …. They assure me that whatever the situation or circumstance-Honesty-Discipline-Character-Humility-Timing and Luck will lead to a comfortable situation. This belief put me into College-an Ivy League education-It helped me in sports where I held my own against the best in Division 1 Wrestling-it put me in the capital of the world-New York City-and placed me in the water with sharks-Wall Street. When I was younger-each one of these worlds was a magical place, a myth-I have broken into these worlds however-called them home and sanity.”
Conversations with Mr. Gavriel’s friends, family members and former colleagues yield a portrait of a man who chose his friends carefully, but who chose them for the long term; who valued loyalty and the idea of brotherhood; who immersed himself wholeheartedly in whatever he did; who was an oddball prankster; who loved sports, fishing and working and living in New York City. And in some ways he was like every other young banker: toiling day and night on Wall Street, crowding the bars of Murray Hill and the Upper West Side on weekends, and courting the occasional girlfriend.
He spent the majority of his four years in New York living in a small studio on 72nd and Columbus, which he referred to as “a box.” It was filled with antiques his parents bought for him at New England yard sales, an acoustic guitar he was teaching himself how to play and group shots from the weddings he had attended.
“I’d never seen someone in so many wedding parties,” said Anthony Farinha, 29, a house mate from Brown. When his college friends came to town, he’d host them all at his place, and they’d hit the Upper West Side dive bar Yogi’s, his favorite haunt. They’d play Johnny Cash on the juke box, toss peanut shells on the floor. His drink of choice? Jim Beam.
Mr. Gavriel rode his royal blue BMW 1150 motorcycle to work, and occasionally wore his biker boots to the office. “He didn’t show up in a navy blue pinstriped suit and Hermès tie, because every other banker in the world did,” said Alexis Hughes, 31, a former colleague from Wall Street. “He showed up at meetings with his motorcycle helmet. And I think that’s something to respect.”
This tiny form of uniform rebellion might have represented Mr. Gavriel’s deeper ambivalence about his white-collar world. Prior to being laid off, in fact, Mr. Gavriel had been reconsidering his options. The Henry Blodget–era scandals on Wall Street discouraged him, piercing a hole in his own sense of self-worth.
In his last months at Banc of America, he’d begun to call it a “jobby-job,” which his mother described as his version of a nine-to-five job. He wasn’t satisfied.
“Ordinary, everyday man’s expectations-he wasn’t that,” she said proudly. Joining the Marines was a way to grow personally and professionally. “He was looking primarily for leadership skills, integrity, honor. It was a good package deal for him. He felt that the military-specifically the Marines-with the regimen and the strict discipline they have, was the best place that he could learn new skills and hone the ones that he had to allow him to become a new leader.”
Lee Schalop, his boss at J.P. Morgan, Credit Suisse and Banc of America, remembered Mr. Gavriel as a tireless, motivated worker, but also said he could tell banking wasn’t his ideal fit.
“It’s clear he didn’t love it the way other people did,” Mr. Schalop explained. “I just thought, That is so perfect for him. He was a tough, quiet guy and to me … he sort of represented what the Marines were.”
To prepare for the Marines, Mr. Gavriel trained for a year-mostly near a friend’s house in New Jersey, where he loved to go fishing-running 10 miles a day and eventually losing more than 40 pounds. But the Marines initially rejected him, citing lingering knee injuries left over from his wrestling career. He lobbied for the Marines to accept him, and eventually shipped off to boot camp last fall.
So when Mr. Gavriel was offered another finance job the day before he left for training (after a year of not working), by then his decision was firm.
“My wife and I went to see him off to boot camp, in Haverhill, Mass., and he said that he felt it was fate playing with him, that he would have been miserable had he not gone [to boot camp],” said Mr. McClelland.
Still, it wasn’t a blind decision. “We all expressed our reservations and hesitations; he knew what the risks were,” said Mr. Farinha.
Once in Iraq, his parents were often unsure about what was happening to their son, clinging to the promise Mr. Gavriel had once made: “They have better use for me than having me run around with a gun,” he had told his mother. “His biggest worry was that his mother would find out and worry about him,” said Mr. McClelland.
But, in fact, Mr. Gavriel was serving as a rifleman in Iraq. According to Mr. McClelland, he heard from Mr. Gavriel not so long ago, after he had caught a clump of shrapnel in his leg from a grenade explosion. About a week later, they were short men for a mission. Though still limping, Mr. Gavriel went into battle in Falluja.
“There’s no way that I would have conceived that this would have been the outcome,” said Mr. Farinha. “He was too talented, too strong, too cunning to ever get hurt.”
Mr. Gavriel’s funeral will be held Tuesday, Nov. 30, at Holy Apostles Church in Haverhill, Mass. His burial will take place at 1 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 2, at Arlington National Cemetery.