Wanken was injured in Sept. 2007, when he suffered eye, ear and other facial injuries while in Fallujah, and was then transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he underwent surgery. His parents, Rick and Susan Wanken of Hampton, said that his death was related to the injuries sustained in Iraq.
However, spokesperson 2nd Lt. Jaymie Sicking of the 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton in San Diego would not release details about his death, saying it is under investigation.
Wanken was a machine gunner in the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
Wanken, a 2006 graduate of Hampton-Dumont High School, was the 2005-06 president of the Iowa Jobs for America’s Graduates, Hampton-Dumont chapter. A standout football player, Wanken was named to the Class 3A, District 2 defensive team after his senior year.
In September, Des Moines Register columnist John Carlson reached Wanken by phone a day after surgery to talk with him about a letter he had written to himself and eventually sent to his parents. At that time, Wanken didn't want to discuss much about what had happened in Iraq, but wanted his friends back home to know he would be home soon for a visit."I haven't been home in a while," Wanken told Carlson.
"I just want to get back to Iowa and hang out with my family."Wanken did make it back to Iowa for a visit and spoke to students at Hampton-Dumont High School, where he graduated in 2006, Principal Trent Grundmeyer told the Des Moines Register.
"I wasn't principal here when he was in high school, but he did a very nice job talking to the students," Grundmeyer said.
Grundmeyer said it was a positive meeting, and that he thanked Wanken for serving his country."One thing I remember specifically about what he said is that the news media doesn't catch exactly what's going on over in Iraq. People don't see all the really horrific things, but they also don't see all the positive things," Grundmeyer said. "He had been injured pretty badly. I could tell ... there were scars on his jaw and it was a challenge for him to talk."
Wanken's body arrived at the Des Moines International airport Tuesday before being transported to Hampton.
Wanken was the 66th person with Iowa ties to die in Iraq or Afghanistan since March 2003.
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Originally posted on "Iowa Independent"