Marine Lance Cpl. Dion James Stephenson, who thought that he might become an actor, instead is being escorted home to Bountiful, Utah, by his younger brother Shaun, a fellow Marine stationed in Saudi Arabia where Dion was killed in ground combat this week.
"Make sure everybody knows what kind of kid he was," his father, James T. Stephenson, a former Marine, said yesterday, his voice breaking. "He was an American hero. He loved his country."
Like others of his 10 Marine comrades reported dead after 36 hours of fighting Iraqi troops in Saudi Arabia, Lance Cpl. Stephenson, 22, also was a young man who left behind a very American kind of life when he was sent overseas late last year.
He was a standout as a high school swimmer and soccer player, a popular and handsome teenager who volunteered to tutor children and followed in his father's footsteps. As a boy, he worked for months to perfect a mime routine he called "One Giant Step for Mankind," in which he pretended to be the astronaut that many youngsters dream of being.
The almost mechanical image of the Persian Gulf War, created from maps, videotapes and endless numbers at military briefings here and in Saudi Arabia, was shattered yesterday for relatives and friends of those who died in the first sustained ground fighting since war began Jan. 17.
For them, yesterday's focal point was the Pentagon list identifying the 11 dead Marines, all based at Camp Pendleton, Calif. It included home towns that evoked the contrast between the ordinariness of daily life in the United States and the complexity of war far away.
On the list was a young man who grew up in a place called Whitehouse. It is a small town in east Texas, named for the old Methodist church, once the only painted building in town. Others lived in towns and cities named Waianae and Wauwatosa, Belvidere and Bountiful, Coulterville and Yellow Meadow.
The young Texan was Daniel Walker, 20. His father, mother and sister, 11, grieved yesterday, exhausted and deeply pained but proud of what Daniel had become and why he died.
"Daniel was a good human being that had found himself in the world," said his father, Bruce Nolan Walker, who taught his son how to fish and hunt and to play pool at the table in the garage.
"You hear people say, 'Join the service and become a man.' He truly had. He was proud to be a Marine. Daniel gave his life bravely and proudly in a noble cause, fighting a madman. I don't know how any human being can do more than give his life in a noble cause."
Before the ground fighting, military officials had reported seven Americans wounded, seven missing in action and eight held prisoner -- all members of air crews.
In the last 36 hours, the first confirmed ground casualties were recorded: 11 Marines dead in two light armored vehicles, two Marines wounded and two soldiers, one a woman, missing.
One of those killed, Cpl. Stephen E. Bentzlin, 23, was born in St. Paul, Minn., and grew up in the southern Minnesota community of Wood Lake. He and his wife, Carol, who brought three children to their marriage, celebrated their first anniversary Dec. 29.
"I am grief-stricken over losing Steve," she said in a statement released at Camp Pendleton. "I spoke to my husband last week. He was in a good state of mind and felt confident . . . . However, perhaps he had a premonition of this tragedy, because he wanted to talk about the details, should he not return.
"He tried to prepare me for this. He said, 'Somebody's gonna get hurt, babe.' But I didn't think it would be Steve.
"Steve loved what he was doing, and I hope his death contributes in some way to our freedom here . . . . I loved my husband with all my heart and soul. It's going to be terrible for our three children and myself . . . . Good night, Steve. I miss you. I love you. You're a hero."
In the nearby community of Oceanside, news of the 11 deaths hit like a missile of anxiety.
Kelli Weeks, 23, sat motionless in her family-owned T-shirt store as a radio announcer read names of 1st Division Marines killed. "I was sad for the families," she said. "I hope this is all over soon."
The news arrived for some families in the middle of night and brought memories about the kind of people these Marines were before they became Marines.
James T. Stephenson was awakened at 2 a.m. by Marine Corps casualty officers. Now he awaits the arrival of his two sons, one alive, the other dead. Dion, a member of the Corps' elite Force Reconnaissance unit, worked as a scout in Saudi Arabia.
"He could make me laugh for hours," Stephenson said, recalling his son's fondness for acting and imitating what he saw around him. "He was kind of the bubbly type."
Four years ago, Daniel Walker was 5 feet 7, with a pixie smile, hair to his shoulders, slashed jeans and a T-shirt advertising the tour of his favorite heavy-metal band. He loved to draw and to listen to hard rock. A junior at Whitehouse High School, he was shy and smart, a B student, according to Karen Littrell, his computer math teacher.
That year, he dropped out of school. But he later earned a high school equivalency diploma, and then, one day in the spring of 1989, he walked into the Marine Corps recruiting office in nearby Tyler, Tex., and enlisted.
Only last week did his high school's "Adopt a Hero" program, in which each class sends letters and cookies to a local soldier abroad, discover that Walker was deployed in the desert.
"We were looking around for a class to adopt him as a hero this morning when the counselor walked in," Littrell said. "She asked if I remembered him and said he was killed. Last week, I had a nightmare that one of my students died in the war. When I woke up, I faced the reality that it would happen, that I would have to deal with it. But are you prepared to deal with it? No. Never."
In the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa, Pfc. Scott Schroeder's mother, Shari, had talked about her son in an interview with the Wauwatosa News-Times last October. She and another neighborhood mother of a Marine stationed in Saudi Arabia described their pride in their sons and their feelings they tried to follow events in the Middle East.
"When we're having an enjoyable time, I always have this cloud over my head," Shari Schroeder said. "I feel real guilty having fun."
"One Christmas about four or five years ago, Scott tried on his deceased grandfather's uniform," she said. "He comes from a long line of Marines, but I think putting on that uniform gave him the deciding nudge."
The Schroeder family yesterday issued a statement through the Marine Corps. It said Scott Schroeder was survived by three brothers -- Eric, 18, Chip, 16, and T.J., 13 -- that he had played soccer for Wauwatosa East High School and had "the honor of shaking President Bush's hand during the president and Mrs. Bush's visit to Saudi Arabia."
"Scott loved life and was proud to be a United States Marine," the statement said. "Scott knew he was loved by his entire family and friends because he loved them first."
Lance Cpl. Thomas Allen Jenkins of Coulterville, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada foothills was part of a family that goes back seven generations in Mariposa County.
He grew up loving hunting, fishing and mining on the family ranch, said Jan Tomlinson, a family friend. He played basketball at Mariposa County High and, after graduation in 1988, took police science courses at Merced Junior College, joined the volunteer fire department and a search-and-rescue team and worked as a Forest Service firefighter in the summer of 1989.
He enlisted in the Marines Jan. 22, 1990, qualified as an expert marksman and left for Saudi Arabia Aug. 13.
A statement typed by the family said Jenkins is survived by his parents, sister, three grandparents, two great-grandparents and "numerous aunts, uncles and cousins." Both grandfathers served in World War II, and one served in Korea. An aunt and uncle are in the Air Force.
News of Lance Cpl. David T. Snyder's death was announced over the loudspeaker at Kenmore West High School, just north of Buffalo, N.Y., where Snyder was graduated in 1987. Principal Charles Kristich asked for a moment of silence.
"We're still in a little bit of shock here," said Maryl Gavazzi, assistant school secretary.
Kristich, in prepared a statement, said Snyder followed an occupational/vocational program and had a special interest in the building-trades program. His goal after high school was to enter the military to gain additional training in construction and welding, Kristich said.
Lance Cpl. Michael E. Linderman Jr., 20, lived periodically with his grandmother in rural Douglas County, Ore., while his father, a career Navy officer, was at sea. Linderman, who graduated from high school in Bremerton, Wash., was married last year.
The other Marines reported dead were identified as Lance Cpl. Frank C. Allen, 22, of Waianae, Hawaii; Cpl. Ismael Cotto, 27, of the Bronx; Sgt. Garett A. Mongrella, 25, Belvidere, N.J., and Lance Cpl. James H. Lumpkins, 22, New Richmond, Ohio.
Maraniss reported from Austin, Tex. Contributing to this report were staff writers Laurie Goodstein in New York, Jay Mathews in Los Angeles and Edward Walsh in Chicago, and special correspondent Jill Walker at Camp Pendleton.