By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 18, 2007
When Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr. came home last Thanksgiving, family members said he was overwhelmed -- by the Iraq war, by the rigors of Army service, and by the shock of leaving California for the poverty and violence of south Baghdad.
"He kept saying, 'God, I don't want to go back,' " said his aunt, Debbie Anzack, who lives five blocks away from Anzack's family home in Torrance, Calif. It was "going to another country, everything that was expected of him, the fact that people were trying to blow him up."
But as the months in Iraq wore on, Anzack adjusted to military life, his family said. "He called his base 'home.' He was getting into it," said his aunt. The 20-year-old machine gunner "was talking about his medals and ribbons and wearing them," she said in a telephone interview.
Anzack and three other young soldiers listed by the Pentagon as missing in Iraq -- one of whom is dead but whose body has not been identified -- were described by family members and friends as alternately fearful and brave, reluctant and proud. All were under 25 and were attracted to the Army as much for the benefits and opportunities as for the loftier goal of service to country.
Iraq has changed them all profoundly, relatives said as they braced for news of the young men's fate. U.S. military officials said forensic experts at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware expected to have the results yesterday of DNA tests on the remains of one of the missing. All four families would then be informed of his identity.
Anzack's aunt said the soldier's parents were "worried sick" about their son, with whom she spoke by phone as recently as last Friday. Anzack had called from Iraq because the military had cut off his access to the MySpace account he used to keep in touch with his relatives, she said.
Anzack, a star football player and wrestler in high school, decided to join the Army because "he just didn't have any kind of future planned for himself," his aunt said. "The recruiters at the school were there, and to him $10,000 sounded like a lot of money, and that was what led him to join."
He had no plans to reenlist, she said, recently telling her that he hoped to find a wife and settle down. "Before, it wasn't like that. Being over there made him grow up and really think about his life," she said.
Sgt. Anthony J. Schober, 23, is the most experienced of the missing soldiers, all of whom are members of the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, N.Y.
"He liked the idea of being in the military because he could get an education," said Arlene Schober, his grandmother. She said her grandson had dropped out of high school after his junior year but was able to earn a GED with the help of the Army. A shy boy who liked the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and played baseball, Schober grew to like the military and reenlisted, his grandmother said in a phone interview from Kirby, Ark.
Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., had a "rough upbringing," recalled Cathy Conger, a family friend who helped raise Fouty after he left his father's home. He attended Walled Lake Central High School, where he played football and acted in plays, but then dropped out.
Fouty enlisted in the Army last year because "there was no one there for him. . . . He didn't really have much here," Conger said. "His parents had been divorced awhile. I kind of thought it was the best thing for him."
After completing boot camp, Conger said, Fouty "looked so grown up and so much more mature" when he came to visit her for Christmas in 2006. "It looked like it had made a good change in him," she said. By then, Fouty knew he was headed to Iraq in January.
"We said, 'God, Byron, aren't you scared?' " Conger recalled. "He said no."
Still, the deployment wore on Fouty, already saddened by the loss of his grandmother to cancer and a close friend to suicide. When he learned recently that his tour would be extended from a year to 15 months, "he was quite upset about that," Conger said.
Spec. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., reportedly enlisted despite his father's opposition to the Iraq war and "enjoyed the Army," Wendy Luzon, a family friend, told the Associated Press.
Military officials said yesterday that they are searching for the soldiers with the presumption that all three of the missing are alive. "We're going to leave no stone unturned and pursue this to the end," said a senior military official in Baghdad. "There is no rest now."