GARY, Ind. – Matthew Winters was looking forward to a duet with his piano-playing daughter, the first U.S. servicewoman to die in the Afghanistan conflict.
Winters, a guitarist, said he had recently written a song for her.
"My daughter meant a whole lot to me," he said Thursday, sitting on a couch in the den of the family's Gary home. "She was a very loving person. She liked people. She was a people person, and I was very proud of her."
Sgt. Jeannette L. Winters, 25, was one of the seven Marines killed Wednesday when their tanker plane crashed in Pakistan. She was the first female solider to die since U.S.-led bombing began in early October.
Winters, whose mother died of cancer about five years ago, was a radio operator who joined the Marines in 1997, following in the footsteps of one of her brothers.
In fact, when her father saw a group of Marines coming to his door, he thought his son had come home for a surprise visit. The soldiers were there to tell him his daughter had died.
Others in the community recalled the young Marine as a kind and active person.
"She was a happy child and maintained a positive attitude," said Leroy Miller, principal at Calumet High School, where Winters was a 1995 graduate. "She came from a humble background, a rather needy family."
Jeannette Winters, one of six siblings, took part in high school track and the school chorus. Her track coach, David Walton, called Winters "a lady of honor and respect."
"She was a wonderful person to deal with," he said. "She had a determination not to quit. Many times she ran in pain. (One time) I asked her `Why don't you just quit and get off the track?' She said, `Coach, I just can't quit."'
At the family home, relatives gathered to comfort Winters' father. A picture of his daughter in her military outfit was prominently displayed atop a bureau.
"She just wanted to do something different. She always wanted to go into the service, always," said a cousin, Oscar Winters, 43. "She would always push to be better. If she was at 100 percent, she thought she could be 200."
Matthew Winters said his daughter spent a year at Indiana University with plans to become a doctor before deciding to join the Marines. He said he finds comfort knowing his daughter died doing what she wanted to do.
"That's all you can do as a father is back your children in what they want to do," he said. "She was just a wonderful person, that's all I can say."
Another cousin, Ulysses Robinson, 54, said the family was proud of Winters' success in the military. Asked how he'd like to remember his cousin, Robinson said: "As a hero."