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Missing pilot loved the action

ROCHELLE, Ill. -- Air Force Maj. Thomas Koritz, one of the first Americans listed as missing in action in Iraq, is remembered in his home town as a dedicated 'Top Gun' type flier who flew because he loved it.

Koritz, 37, one of only five Air Force surgeons who also are pilots, was reported missing Saturday. Pentagon officials said his F-15E aircraft may have crash-landed during action Thursday over Iraq and Koritz may be alive.

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His wife, Julianne, 35, and three children await word of his fate in Goldsboro, N.C., where the missing flier's 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron was based.

Koritz left Rochelle in 1971 to embark on a career in medicine and the military. But during his boyhood, he made a mark not easily forgotten.

He was an honors student at Rochelle Township High School and a well- regarded lineman on the football team. Large and good-looking, he turned heads in the community of fewer than 10,000 people.

'Everybody in the community has always admired him so much,' said Marjorie Hayes, whose children attended school in a class just behind Koritz'.

Koritz attend the University of Illinois, graduated Phi Beta Kappa, attended the UI medical school in Rockford and enlisted in the Air Force in 1980.

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An airplane buff during his high school days, he entered flight school despite his medical degree and became a flight surgeon.

His cousin, Gary Koritz, of Champaign, said Koritz was so enamored of flying that he hung around Rochelle's small air field during his spare time while in high school.

'I had hoped that, as a flight surgeon, he wouldn't be in the front lines,' said Gary Koritz. 'But he's such a dedicated, gung-ho flier, I'm sure he wanted to be there.'

'He was a real jockey, 'Top Gun' kind of stuff,' added Charles Denison, pastor of the First Presbyterian church in Rochelle.

'You just have to pray for strength for the family, for everybody,' said Bob Erwin, a teacher at the high school.

The high school observed a moment of silence for Koritz' safety just before a Friday night basketball game. Sunday, the Presybterian Church where his family worshipped held a special prayer service for him.

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