April 5, 2003
OHIO CITY -- Van Wert High School senior English teacher Bitsi Clark will never forget the last time that she saw Christian Daniel Gurtner. He stood tall and proud and was confident in what he was doing. "He came back to visit, and he was so enthusiastic," Clark said. "He beamed; he had been to Paris Island and his whole life had changed. It's the image I will always have of him. All day yesterday that's all I thought about. It's how I will always remember him." Gurtner had died Wednesday morning in Iraq during a mission. According to the Marines, Gurtner was the first Ohioan serving in Iraq to be killed. Students and faculty at Van Wert High School, where Gurtner had graduated last spring, reacted with instant respect and shock. "He was a very dedicated student, hard-working, with a great smile," said teacher Diana Shields, who had spent a lot of time working with Gurtner. "He chose the career path he had always wanted to follow. Once he made his decision, he was very proud of it. He came back to high school in uniform. He was so proud of it." Shields said when Gurtner worked at Willow Bend Country Club and Dairy Queen in Van Wert, he had considered going into a culinary arts profession. But when he investigated the Marines, it seemed like the best choice for him. "He liked the idea of defending his friends and defending the country," Shields said. "He believed in his values, and he believed in helping others. Van Wert High School student Nick Scott was a close friend of Gurtner in the school's bowling club. He described Gurtner as a person who was always laughing and full of energy. "He was the life of the party type; He always had something to say or do," Scott said. "He was a great guy. He always made things interesting. "Before he joined the Marines he didn't say much, but he left us all know that he was proud to serve his country." Scott said he and Gurtner visited when the latter visited during a break in late October. He had just finished boot camp and was home on leave. "He told us that the military was tough, but he was glad that he had made it through so far," Scott said. "He was happy to be where he was. He was very happy to be a Marine. He was glad to be with us again. He always enjoyed bowling, his friends, and being around the people that he cared about. "I couldn't believe it when I heard that he had died," Scott said. "I didn't know what to do. I was just shocked." Connie Ainsworth, Gurtner's senior counselor, said that Gurtner went through a period of "senioritis" near the end of last year. "I explained to him that sometimes we have to go through situations that we don't like the best in order to get to what we like to do," Ainsworth said. "He stepped up to the challenge and graduated with success. He went and did what he wanted to do." "This really brought things home to us," Shields said. "We see all that's going on with the war when we watch TV, but this makes it real. This brings it right home to where we're living."