Family was important to Theodore Clark Jr., and he would call his parents in Virginia whenever he could, from wherever he was.

"He would always keep in touch," his father, Theodore Clark Sr., said last night from Emporia, where Clark grew up. The older man said the son could not phone last Monday, but he e-mailed his wife to pass the word that "he was doing fine."

On Thursday, Theodore Clark Jr., a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps, was killed near Gardez, Afghanistan. The vehicle he was in was struck by a roadside bomb during combat operations, the Pentagon announced. In two more days, he would have been 32.

He and his wife had two small children. He was a "loving husband" and father and a devoted son, his father said. He had been a Marine since high school graduation, the father said. "It looked like that was his destiny."

When he was sent this year to Afghanistan, "he wasn't afraid," his father said. "He knew he had a job to do. . . . He went to serve his country and do his job as well as he could."

"If you met him," his father said, "you would say, 'This is a perfect guy.' "

The sergeant was born in Baltimore, where his mother, Alice E. Clark, had relatives. Before he was 3, his parents took him to Emporia, on Interstate 95 south of Richmond, so his father could help take care of his own father.

The younger Clark played basketball in his neighborhood, was involved in track at school and had a part-time job with the Winn-Dixie grocery store, his father said.

At Greensville County High School, his father said, he drew the attention of recruiters from all branches of the armed forces.

He chose the Marines and stayed, his father said, to serve and "provide for his family and give them a better life." The Pentagon said he was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton.

Late Thursday night, two Marines brought the news.

"It hurts," the father said. But "we were very proud of him."