They were a disparate group: One was a police officer from Martinsville, Va., another a seminary student, another a robotics enthusiast from Midlothian, Va., and the fourth a Virginia Tech history graduate from Fredericksburg.
But as members of a Marine Reserve unit of combat engineers based in Lynchburg, Va., their lives converged, and in recent months they'd been living near a dam near the Euphrates River northwest of Baghdad, patrolling, sweeping for road mines and searching for insurgent weapons.
Vicki and Nathan Strong talk about their son, Sgt. Jesse Strong. "He joined the military to help pay his college and to serve his country," she said.
(Toby Talbot -- AP)
All four were killed in an attack of "small arms fire and enemy-initiated explosives" on Wednesday, the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Iraq, while conducting combat operations near Haditha, a Marine official said.
"The best way we can honor them as heroes is to continue to do our jobs and press forward with what the Marine Corps is doing," Capt. Jamie Wagner, the group's inspector-instructor, said from Lynchburg. "We are a very close company."
A television reporter embedded with the unit, Jim Dolan of WABC in New York City, said the four were killed when their Marine convoy was ambushed leaving a town.
The four were Cpl. Jonathan Bowling, 23, of Stuart, Va.; Sgt. Jesse Strong, 24, of Albany, Vt.; Lance Cpl. Karl Linn, 20, of Midlothian; and Cpl. Christopher Weaver, 24, of Fredericksburg.
Friends of Linn's, a mechanical engineering student at Virginia Commonwealth University, could keep up with his military duties through a Web site he'd rigged from Iraq -- karl.linn.net/.
"Welcome to my improvised website about my current adventures in Iraq," it says on the introductory page. "For those of you who don't know me (or for those who simply don't remember), my name's Karl, and the Marine Corps Reserve has called me into active service for the time being. I call the greater Richmond area my home, although my parent unit, Charlie Company of the 4th Combat Engineer Battalion is based out of Lynchburg, Virginia."
The Web site shows photos of guns and helicopters. One is labeled, "Little old me with the Kalashnikov," and others offer a view of the Euphrates from his balcony.
"God, everybody that knew him loved him," his father, Richard, said of his son. "He was a little guy -- but he was a little gem."
Linn, who had helped start a robotics team at James River High School in Chesterfield County, was a tinkerer with a flair for the creative, his father said.
Strong, an avid archer who was home-schooled in rural Vermont, had come to Virginia to attend Liberty University, the evangelical college founded in Lynchburg by the Rev. Jerry Falwell. After his recent graduation, he put in one semester at a North Carolina seminary, his mother said, although he had no plans to become a minister.
"It was his love for the knowledge of who God is and that He exists," his mother, Vicki Strong, said. "He had a hunger for that and a desire to know more.
"He joined the military to help pay his college and to serve his country," she said. When his unit was called up, "he just knew it was his turn and his time go . . . [but] he wanted to come home so much."