Not long after Krisna Nachampassak graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, he came home and told his mother and father that he had decided to join the Marines.
"My jaw dropped," his father, Thinnat, recalled yesterday. "I was surprised, but I told him that if he wanted to join, I would support him 100 percent."
His father was talking by phone from his son's home in Oceanside, Calif., where family and friends had gathered to comfort Nachampassak's wife, Danile, his teenage stepson, Roman, and son, Jayven, 4. Nachampassak, 27, a Marine sergeant, was killed in a noncombat vehicle accident Saturday in Iraq.
The Department of Defense is investigating the accident, which also killed three other Marines in Al Anbar province. Danile Nachampassak said she was told by military officials that the Humvee her husband was riding in flipped into a water-filled ditch and that her husband and his comrades drowned.
"He was very quiet, very humble," Danile Nachampassak said of her husband, "but with me he liked to joke around. He was very caring and always thinking of other people. He loved soccer so much, and he loved his kids. He always used to say that he wanted a lot of kids so he could have his own soccer team."
Nachampassak's father and mother came to the United States in August 1976 after making their way out of Laos and into a refugee camp. Thinnat Nachampassak said he often told Krisna and his other son, Rajda, about their struggle for freedom, and he believes that made an impression. Rajda Nachampassak joined the Marines in May.
Yesterday, with family and friends gathered around her, Danile Nachampassak was struggling to come to grips with her husband's death -- as well as the fact that he had been sent to Iraq last month, a point in the war when she said she believed U.S. soldiers should be coming home.
She said the family found out in January that Nachampassak would be leaving his base at Camp Pendleton, Calif., to go to Iraq. "I was mad," she said. "The truth is, I was outraged. But then I thought about it and we talked, and he is my husband and I stood by him. I told him I loved him and I would stand by him because that is what I am supposed to do."
But she said that her husband was also angry with the deployment. "He called me last Tuesday and he said he was scared, that they were being bombed a lot, and that made me even more scared and upset," Danile Nachampassak said.
One of the last things he told her was that he was worried about her and the two boys -- worried who would watch after them if something happened to him. "He was not thinking of himself," she said.
Danile and Krisna met in Hawaii while he was stationed there. She said she noticed him when he walked into a restaurant -- "He was beautiful" -- and then was surprised when he came over and talked to her. He wrote down his name and phone number, and when she looked at it, she laughed.
"Your name is Nacho, like nacho chips?" she asked. He had given her his nickname, and that was enough to put her off. An hour after she left the restaurant, though, Krisna called her. But within a day or so, he was dispatched to Laos as a translator. As soon as he returned, he began calling Danile again. Three months later, she finally consented to go out with him. A year and half after that, they were married.
Danile Nachampassak said she plans to move back to Hawaii, taking her husband's ashes with her so that he "can always be surrounded by the love of his family."
Researcher Bobbye Pratt contributed to this report.