It took coaxing from family members yesterday before Julie Bubb would recount her telephone conversation Monday with her nephew, Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Scott R. Bubb.

"I love you and I'm always worried about you," Julie Bubb said she told him, her voice choked with tears.

"Julie, don't worry. I'm okay," he told her.

About three hours later, he was dead, she said.

Pentagon officials said Daniel Bubb, 19, of Grottoes, Va., was killed when he was hit by small-arms fire while conducting combat operations against enemy forces in Al Rutbah, Iraq.

Bubb was assigned to the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).

Family members gathered yesterday at Bubb's grandmother's home in Grottoes, a town about 15 miles south of Harrisonburg, Va., to meet with Marine officials coordinating the return of his body from Iraq.

Bubb's mother, Janey Harrah, 40, was picking up her two younger sons at school Monday when her husband called. Without implying that there was anything wrong, he asked her to meet him at her mother's home. There she was greeted by her husband and several Marines dispatched to deliver the terrible news that her son had died.

Harrah said her son was 16 when he started pleading with her to let him enlist in the military. When he graduated from high school, she relented, accompanying him to the recruiting station and agreeing not to cry.

"On the day of his [17th] birthday, I signed my boy over to them," Harrah recalled. "I was distraught."

Harrah said she tried not to worry. She watched the news, but instead of violent television shows, she watched her son's favorites -- cartoons such as "The Simpsons" and "South Park" -- anything to "settle me down," she said.

On Monday, there was no escaping it. Sitting in her mother's home, surrounded by family members, she described her son as a well-rounded boy who impressed his parents and other adults by participating in track meets, serving as a church acolyte and stepping up as drum major in his high school marching band.

Although he was not one of his school's best students, he would help others with their work, his mother said.

Harrah said it was the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that really molded her son's future.

Sept. 11 "made up his mind," Harrah said. "He really wanted to be there. . . . He always wanted to be the best, no matter what. He wanted to be the hero. He wanted to be the one that took care of business over there."

Harrah said her son's resolve wavered somewhat when he returned home after his first eight months in Iraq.

"He was wishy-washy," Harrah said. "But he wanted closure on the war over there." He had some "mixed feelings toward the end. But he had to deal with it. He had to brave up and step up to the plate."

She talked to her son about a week before his death.

"He wouldn't let me ask any questions about him so I wouldn't worry," Harrah recalled. "He was happy. I told him 'I love you, I love you, I love you,' and he said it back to me.

"I had him when I was 19, and he died when he was 19," Harrah said, her voice heavy with sorrow. "He was my best friend."

Bubb would have turned 20 the day after his death.

Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Scott R. Bubb of Grottoes, Va., was struck by small-arms fire in Al Rutbah, Iraq.