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Remembering Marine Sgt. Jeannette Winters
Natalie Battaglia / The Times Jean Brady, a teacher at Lake Ridge Middle School for 44 years, stops Tuesday to talk to Matthew Winters before a ceremony to dedicate the entrance of the school to Sgt. Jeannette Winters. Brady remembers teaching Jeannette and was one of the key people who helped make the entrance-way plaque a reality.

CALUMET TOWNSHIP -- Sgt. Matthew Winters Jr. lost more than a little sister when U.S. Marine Sgt. Jeannette Winters died last year.

He said he also lost a fellow Marine and his best friend.

A communications and radio operator, Jeannette Winters, 25, was the first female Marine to die in a combat zone. She was among seven people killed Jan. 9, 2002, in Afghanistan when a tanker plane they were in crashed.

On Tuesday, Lake Ridge Middle School, where she was a student, honored her memory by dedicating the entrance way of the school in her name. A plaque hangs on the wall, featuring her picture and attesting to her bravery and courage.

Small flags, placed in the ground along the sidewalk to the school's entrance, waved in the wind. Students also tied red, white and blue ribbons around the trees surrounding the school's entryway to show their patriotism.

Standing next to the plaque, Matthew Winters Jr. said his sister's memory lives on in him. Winters said his sister wouldn't have wanted all the glory but she would have appreciated it. The school gave Winters a framed copy of the plaque.

Matthew Winters, a communications specialist who is stationed at Twenty-Nine Palms, Calif., said he came home to represent his father at this event because the elder Winters has been ill. He also said his sister Lisa is expecting a baby. He expects to fly out June 11.

Matthew Winters said their family, the Marines and Jeannette's years at Lake Ridge schools shaped the kind of person she grew up to be.

Robert E. Mastej said he well remembers Jeannette, who was a student during his first years at the school.

"She always had a smile on her face," he said. "She tried to keep her brother Donald in line. I remember one time she came in the office and saw Donald, and she told him, 'Uh-oh. Just wait until you get home.' She was a very warm person. It really hurt us to find out about her death, remembering that she walked these halls."

Master Sgt. David Lee, who has an office in Crown Point, represented the U.S. Marine Corps. He said Jeannette Winters exemplified the qualities of every Marine.

"Marines are different. They're a breed unto themselves," Lee said. "The Marine Corps is not just the service, it's a very fraternal organization. Sgt. Winters' death is a profound loss to all of us."

Student William Evans, who led the participants in the Pledge of Allegiance, said although he never knew Jeannette Winters, he thinks she's well deserving of this honor.

"I've heard that she was a very good person," William said. "Anybody who is in the service deserves to be honored."

Carmen McCollum can be reached at carmenm@nwitimes.com or (219) 933-3318.

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