Marine Dies of Heart Attack After Returning From Iraq

After eight months in Kuwait (search) and Iraq (search), Marine Master Gunnery Sgt. Dale Racicot just wanted to see his wife and two daughters.

Giddy with excitement, they headed for the airport Friday in Racicot's cherished "Marine Corps green" pickup truck to start what his daughter, Keri Magnarelli, called "a reunion of a lifetime."

Back home three hours later, Racicot collapsed onto his dining room floor, dead of a heart attack at 54.

His wife, Janet, said she heard the thud from the kitchen, where she was getting a glass of water.

"I came running over to him and I knew something serious was going on," she said in an interview Tuesday. "He looked at me and said, 'I love you all,' and that was the last thing he said."

In Kuwait, Racicot headed a six-member intelligence team that analyzed statements from Iraqi prisoners of war. It was not immediately known if the stress of the job contributed to the heart attack.

Staff Sgt. Luis DeJesus, who at 33 was the youngest member of the team, said Racicot was a careful listener who was a mentor to fellow Marines.

DeJesus said Racicot often talked about how proud he was of his family.

"He was very focused about going home and being with his family," DeJesus said. "He used it as a light at the end of the tunnel at times when that light was very dim for us."

His family was equally devoted to him.

"Every morning there was a cup of tea, nearly every day, a love note," Janet Racicot said. "Every girl dreams of the man she's going to marry. I got to marry that man."

Photographs and mementos were spread over the dining room table Tuesday at the Racicots' home. Outside were American and Marine Corps flags and yellow ribbons on trees.

"When you love someone and they go to war you have to mentally prepare yourself for the fact they might not come home, so we were just thrilled," Magnarelli, 24, said Tuesday. "We had three hours. They were the most precious hours we could have asked for."

In his civilian life, Racicot was a mechanical engineer at a company that makes power supplies and other electrical equipment. His family said he was a devout Christian who was a drummer in the "music ministry" at Goffstown Christian Fellowship church, where his funeral will be held Thursday.

Racicot joined the Marines in 1969, when he was 20, and was on active duty until 1975. He left the service to help raise his daughters and rejoined the reserves in 1985.

Magnarelli and her sister, 20-year-old Stacey Racicot, said their father was passionate about ending the suffering of the Iraqi people.

He returned from the Mideast to Camp Pendleton (search) in California, where he spent three weeks before flying home Friday. He was to begin the process to end his active duty this week, and told his family he wanted a quiet homecoming.

"He didn't want a big entourage. He didn't want a party. He just wanted it to be the three of us and my husband," Magnarelli said.

During his few hours at home, Racicot handed out trinkets, Kuwaiti money, bandannas and other gifts he had picked up overseas.

At 2:30 a.m. Saturday, he suggested that everyone go to bed because they would have the whole weekend to spend together.