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A family recalls son, soldier and friend

Stanley "Stash" Lapinski, 35, spent his life challenging his body and mind. He died Saturday in Iraq, the victim of a roadside bomb.

Published June 14, 2005

BEVERLY HILLS - For Gaye Lapinski, her son was a gentle human being, her best friend, one who got all her bad habits, she jokes. She hoped he would one day get married and give her a grandchild.

For Stanley Lapinski, a World War II Marine veteran, his namesake was the epitome of dedication and personal responsibility. He talks proudly about his son, the Army specialist who could imagine doing nothing greater than giving his life defending his country.

On Saturday, Stanley "Stash" Lapinski did. On patrol with his unit in Iraq, Lapinski died instantly after suffering head injuries when a roadside bomb exploded nearby, his father said. He was 35.

Since the death, the Lapinski house in Beverly Hills has been filled with family, friends and flowers. And memories of Stash, both as a football-loving boy and as a music-loving man, came pouring out.

"You don't look that close at your kid when you see him every day," his mother said.

Stash Lapinski was born Dec. 16, 1969. Everyone called him "Stash." The family traveled around the United States first for the elder Lapinski's job at AT&T and then during his professional golfing days.

They eventually settled in Naples, Fla., where Stash Lapinski grew into a football player under the guidance of his father.

When he was in the eighth grade, Stash Lapinski worked out with the ninth-graders. When he got to high school, his father said, he started on the varsity team. Nearing 6 feet tall, Stash Lapinski played linebacker and tight end.

The family's house was across the street from the football field, and his father would watch him at practice through a pair of binoculars. If Stash ever got chewed out by his coach, the elder Lapinski saw it and gave him his own chewing out at home.

Stash Lapinski didn't mind, his father said, because he was dedicated to being the best.

There's also another reason: Gaye Lapinski said her son admired his father. He told her many, many times, she said.

After high school, Stash Lapinski got a football scholarship at Merrimack College in Massachusetts. When the school eliminated the football program, he moved to Las Vegas, where his parents were living, and enrolled at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

He eventually earned a degree in psychology from the University of South Florida and wanted to go to graduate school. He gained knowledge by burying his face in books and collecting thousands of record albums.

"He was the smartest kid I'd ever seen," said his aunt, Sharon Davison. He also was obsessed with routine and a stickler for promptly meeting his responsibilities.

When he got his paychecks, he would leave work on his lunch break, deposit the check at the bank, and then rush home to write out his bills, his mother said.

Motivated by 9/11, he decided to join the Army in 2003. This past Thanksgiving, Craig Davison and Stash Lapinski finished up dinner and went out to get a few drinks and the talk eventually turned to Lapinski's pending departure to Iraq. Davison, his cousin, had served in Desert Storm more than a decade earlier.

Davison told Lapinski that he should be careful, that Iraq was a far more uncertain place today than when he was there, Sharon Davison said.

Stash Lapinski, the Army specialist, deployed to Iraq on Jan. 26.

Gaye Lapinski last spoke with her son on June 4, when he was on a break at a base in Qatar. He told his mother that it was a peaceful place and had a swimming pool. She monitored his bank accounts and finances, so he told her not to be alarmed if a few purchases showed up on his account. He told her he'd be buying a pair of jeans and other clothes.

He told her that he hadn't had a beer in months and that he was excited to have the three beers a day that the military allowed.

She joked with him: "I bet you'll figure out a way to get more."

They laughed.

As she sat with Bradley, a black poodle, dozing on her lap on Tuesday afternoon, she remembered Stash telling her repeatedly to book airlines tickets for herself and Dad for a trip to Las Vegas. He'd pay. He said they'd all stay with "his friend" Rebecca and go out every night.

Gaye Lapinski thinks her son was going to break some news. That he was planning to get married to "his friend."

"Now all the things are clicking in my head," Gaye Lapinski said.

[Last modified June 14, 2005, 20:07:02]

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