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Soldier dies for country not yet his own

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Dawid Pietrek emigrated from Poland to the United States three years ago with dreams of a college education and a career as a police officer.

He arrived with a green card and worked as a caregiver for several elderly families in the Chicago area.

"Dawid was the best," one of his employers told the Daily Herald newspaper. "He was smart and kind and worked so hard."

Image: U.S. Marine Dawid Pietrek
Daily Herald
U.S. Marine Dawid Pietrek was killed in Afghanistan on June 14, 2008.

Pietrek, 24, joined the Marines last year in hopes of becoming one of 40,000 foreign nationals since 9/11 to expedite their U.S. citizenship by serving in the armed forces. He was among 69,000 active duty service members born outside the United States, about 5 percent of our total military force.

Pietrek deployed to Afghanistan two months ago with the 1st Marine Division and was initially assigned to Kandahar.

"It's hot over here, about 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit)," he wrote his mother and sister back home in Police, Poland. "Our first week here, our base was attacked by rocket fire. No one was hurt."

Pietrek told his family not to worry about him, but just in case, he wrote, "If something should happen to me, remember – this was my decision."

On June 14, a roadside bomb tore through Pietrek's Humvee in southwestern Afghanistan, killing him and three other Marines in the single worst attack this year on U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

Pietrek was buried Tuesday morning at Arlington National Cemetery. His mother and sister traveled from his native Poland to lay him to rest in his adopted America.

Marine Pfc. Dawid Pietrek was the 489th casualty of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to be buried at Arlington.

John Rutherford is an NBC News Producer based out of the Washington, D.C. bureau and is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He also posts stories on the military at www.dailynightly.msnbc.com (click on "John Rutherford" under "categories").