USF graduate killed in Iraq

When she thinks of her son, Gaye Lapinski remembers his kindness and his love for music; she laughs a little when she recalls his terrible handwriting and his habit of deliberately mangling grammar to exasperate her.

“One of his favorite subjects was English and he would purposely use improper grammar to drive me crazy,” she said. “Even though he was 35 years old, I’d still correct him every time he did it.”

Stanley Lapinski, who graduated from USF in 1992, died June 11 after sustaining head injuries from a roadside explosion in Baghdad. According to reports, three other soldiers traveling in the same Humvee were wounded. The 35-year-old Army specialist, who was inspired to enlist after Sept. 11, was a member of the 3rd Battalion, Seventh Infantry Regiment.

Since her son’s death, Gaye Lapinski said her husband and she have been overwhelmed by messages of love, support and sympathy. But each day brings a new reminder of their loss.

“Both of us haven’t accepted it as a reality,” Gaye Lapinski said. “When they read his name at church this morning as one of the bereaved, we both just gasped. “

Gaye Lapinski said that Sunday was particularly difficult for her husband. Just a few days ago he received a Father’s Day card from his son. The letter was postmarked just four days before his son’s death.

At the high school he attended in Naples, Stanley Lapinski’s passions were English and football. Stash — Polish for Stan — as his parents affectionately called him, played tight end.

“He was tickled to death when (USF) got the football program,” Lapinski said. “He would have me order him football sweatshirts.”

During his time at USF, Stanley Lapinski worked part-time jobs, sometimes bicycling five miles to and from work to pay his way through college, Lapinski said.

“When he went to high school he was a ‘B’ student,” she said. “At college if he got less than an ‘A’, he went crazy. It was like he couldn’t get enough knowledge.”

After graduating with a psychology degree, Stanley Lapinski found it difficult to find work in his preferred field, instead working for an electrical goods retail firm in Florida and later in Las Vegas, where he also worked in the Bellagio Hotel. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 had a profound effect on him, prompting him to join the Army, Gaye Lapinski said.

“It made him determined that he wanted to do something for his country,” Lapinski said. “As a mother I didn’t want him to do that, but there was no stopping him.”

Gaye Lapinski said her son had a lot of faith in people, a trait that manifested itself in his dislike of hearing people criticizing others.

“He could never say anything against anybody,” she said. “He would always defend people. I’d say, ‘Jeez, don’t you think anything bad of anyone?’ He’d say, ‘Nope.’ No matter who you were, whether you were rich or poor, once you met Stan, you were his friend.”

Gaye Lapinski’s last conversation with her son was by telephone on June 4. Known in his unit as ‘Pops’ because he was 10 years older than most of his colleagues, Gaye Lapinski said he was continually reassuring her about his safety.

“He was in Qatar on R n’ R and he was very up,” she said. “He would say to me all the time, ‘Don’t worry about me; don’t watch the news, they sensationalize everything. I’ve got good guys all around me, and they’re watching my back.’ The thought of this happening never crossed my mind.”

Stanley Lapinski will be buried with full military honors on June 30 at Arlington National Cemetery. A memorial service for the USF graduate will be held at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Church in Naples on Wednesday at 10 a.m.