By LISA LEFF
The Associated Press
Saturday, August 25, 2007; 11:42 PM
CLOVIS, Calif. -- Early in the Iraq war, Jeff and Peggy Hubbard faced the news that every parent with a child at war dreads, the death of their son Jared, a Marine killed alongside his best friend.
Two years, nine months and 18 days later, they faced another grim-faced officer. This time, it was their youngest, Army Cpl. Nathan Hubbard, 21, dead in a helicopter crash in Iraq.
A third brother, Jason, was on another helicopter in the same unit and was at the crash site. He accompanied his brother's body on a flight out of Iraq and returned home Friday to be with his family.
The family has been told that, if he requests it, Jason Hubbard will be discharged or given a noncombat assignment under an Army policy governing sole surviving siblings and children of soldiers killed in combat, said Tim Rolen, a family friend and pastor who co-presided at Jared Hubbard's funeral on Veteran's Day 2004.
"In all of our minds we have an order of the way things go. The death of a child is out of order. You now have a family that has lost two," Rolen said. "One doesn't prepare you for another one."
Nathan was barely out of high school when a roadside bomb killed Jared and Jared's best friend. Nathan tattooed his brother's initials on his arm, described him as his hero and enlisted to pick up where his big brother left off.
With a yearlong tour of duty almost behind him, he was making plans to meet his buddies in Hawaii, where he was stationed, when the Black Hawk helicopter carrying him and 13 other soldiers had mechanical problems and crashed during a night flight. There were no survivors.
Jason Hubbard, 33, had resigned as a Fresno County sheriff's deputy to join the Army at the same time Nathan did. At their request, the two were assigned to the same unit, the 3rd Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division based on Oahu.
Jason was riding in another helicopter when the Black Hawk went down. He told his wife by telephone that he was part of the crew assigned to search the wreckage, according to Rolen.
He accompanied Nathan's body on a military aircraft from Iraq to Kuwait, then he went on to California.
Flags were lowered to half-staff outside homes, stores and municipal buildings Friday all over Clovis, a city of 90,000 next to Fresno.
For many people in the town, the Hubbard family's tragedy elicited echoes from two movies: "Saving Private Ryan," which depicted the search for a paratrooper whose three brothers have already died in World War II, and "Legends of the Fall" _ one of Nathan Hubbard's favorite films _ about the death of the youngest of three Montana brothers who went off to battle during World War I.
The military does not track families with more than one child serving in Iraq or cases in which casualties have resulted in a service member's discharge or change in combat status, said Lt. Jonathan Withington, a Department of Defense spokesman.
Buchanan High Principal Don Ulrich remembered Nathan Hubbard, a 2004 graduate, as a happy-go-lucky student and junior varsity wrestler who made friends easily. Counselors sent to the school Thursday were mostly visited by teachers and staff members who remembered the deaths of 2001 graduates Jared Hubbard and his friend, Jeremiah Baro.
"It is very difficult to comprehend the loss this Buchanan family has endured. All we can do is support Nathan and his brothers' commitment to serving their country and keep the family in our prayers," Ulrich said.
The Hubbards _ who also have a daughter, Heidi, 31 _ asked for privacy. Jeff Hubbard is a retired Clovis police officer, and a uniformed officer was posted outside their door. Capt. Drew Bessinger, a longtime friend whose son grew up with Jared Hubbard, said the family's double tragedy had unsettled the most hardened veterans.
"It's difficult for us, even though we are people who deal with disturbing situations on a daily basis. It gets under our armor, even though we deal with death all the time," Bessinger said.
Rolen said Jeff and Peggy Hubbard had conflicting emotions when Nathan and Jason enlisted six months after their brother's death. The parents were proud, but wanted to make sure the sons were doing it for the right reasons and understood the risks, he said.
"Any parent who has lost a child in this manner would say, 'Be sure.' This is a family that is strong on commitment," he said.
In an interview with The Fresno Bee shortly before he left for basic training in 2005, Nathan Hubbard said he knew the dangers but did not worry about dying.
"My brother _ my parents' son _ will always be in our hearts, and we'll always remember him and we'll always think of him and all that, but we've got to move on, and that's what we are doing," he said.
A public vigil for Nathan was planned for Monday evening, and the soldier is to be buried late this coming week with full military honors at Clovis Cemetery, where his brother and friend Jeremiah Baro were buried side by side.
On Friday, at their first regular season game, members of Buchanan High School's football team plan to wear five stars on their helmets, one in honor of each graduate who has died in Iraq, school district spokeswoman Kelly Avants said.
(This version CORRECTS Corrects name to Bessinger, sted Berrington thruout)