A local soldier and Levant Christian School graduate was killed Wednesday in Afghanistan from a roadside bombing.
Fredonia native Army Sgt. Jonathan "Nathan" Gollnitz, 28, was killed in a roadside attack that also killed another soldier. Gollnitz joined the Navy right after high school then later joined the Army. He previously spent a tour in Iraq and was recently deployed to Afghanistan. According to family friend Wendy Eimers, Gollnitz always wanted to join the Navy.
"He joined right after high school. It was something he had wanted to do his entire life," Eimers said. "He had his goals, and that was to be in the Navy. He said, 'I have to go to protect Lukas (his son).'"
Eimers' son, Josh, and Gollnitz were close growing up and Gollnitz stayed with the Eimers' family, even when he enlisted. Josh Eimers most recently talked with Gollnitz late last week and he knew something was not right.
"He sent me an instant message and said 'I don't think I'm coming home this time.' We just thought he was being Jon," Eimers said. "He said, 'If I don't come back, it's God's will.'"
Even if he didn't have a good feeling about his deployment, Gollnitz was excited about a trip he had booked to Spain early next year. Gollnitz was previously injured in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device (IED) less than a month ago. He was transferred to Germany, and just recently returned to work with his unit.
Fredonia High School Principal Todd Crandall confirmed Gollnitz was a student at Fredonia Central School up through 11th grade. Gollnitz transferred to Levant Christian School in Falconer in 2003 where he later graduated. Eimers said Gollnitz had wanted to transfer so he could go to school with Eimer's son, Josh.
"The few faculty members that recall (Gollnitz) had positive things to say. He was personable, had good character and they enjoyed him in the classroom," Crandall said.
Eimers recalled Gollnitz as a good kid who didn't get into trouble.
"Jon was always a good kid. He was a spiritually minded kid. He was pretty quiet but he could also be full of the dickens," Eimers said. "He and my son had a lot of fun together."
Gollnitz is survived by five younger brothers, Kirk, Chad, Tyler, Nick and Noah. Some of the boys still attend the middle and high school and the district held a moment of silence Thursday for the family.
"Our big focus is to comfort (family members) and honor Jon," Crandall said.
Gollnitz is also survived by his parents Alan and Kim, a young son, Lukas Conrad and many aunts and uncles also survive. Crandall said a tragedy of this nature hits close to home.
"It stops you in your tracks and brings reality home," he said.
Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe, a veteran of the United States Navy from 1969 to 1973 as a hospital corpsman, said "it's a somber time" for the village and the area.
"We're very sad to learn about losing one of our own in Afghanistan, so we're getting ready for (the homecoming)," Keefe said.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete at this time. Family members flew to Dover, Del. to meet Gollnitz's body Thursday evening. A ceremony was held in Dover where Gollnitz's son would be presented with his uniform and dog tags. The family is expected to return to the area Friday morning.