Neither Spc. Jamaal Addison nor Pfc. Howard Johnson II was a gung-ho fighter, itching for battle in Iraq. Each had joined the Army for job training and a better foothold for the future.
Instead, the two members of the 507th Maintenance Co. became early casualties of war after their supply convoy was ambushed Sunday in the Iraqi city of Nasiriyah.
Addison, 22, was the son of a Georgia postal worker, and Johnson, 21, the son of an Alabama minister. Their families officially learned of their deaths on Tuesday, but their grief was compounded by guesswork and even anger. They wanted to know so badly how their sons had died.
"They owe us some facts," said Kevin Addison, Jamaal Addison's father. "We will never know the truth of why a maintenance crew could wander so far out in the battlefield."
At the brick home where Addison grew up in this Atlanta suburb, neighbors and family quietly visited this afternoon. There were no yellow ribbons or U.S. flags. Just the sound of birds in the trees.
Kevin Addison stood alone near a rosebush. Glazed with grief and exhaustion, he had driven nine hours to Florida and back to break the news to his mother that her grandson -- the one she had knit booties for as a baby and called "my heart" -- was dead.
He grew angrier with every mile. The feeling was echoed by Jamaal Addison's mother, Patricia Roberts, who spent the afternoon making burial arrangements.
"Bush is sending other people's children to war," she said. "He is telling people how honorably they might die. I would rather my son be a coward and in my arms than Bush's hero."
Addison enlisted in the Army 18 months after graduating from an Atlanta high school in 2000. "He did not join to fight," his father said. "He realized he had obligations. But he wasn't a fighter."
Addison liked tinkering with cars and computers, and in the Army he was a communications specialist. Deployed to South Korea for a year, he returned to Fort Bliss in Texas, only to get his orders in February for Kuwait. Before he left, he married a high school friend, and they spent their honeymoon at Fort Bliss. "Nothing but dirt and trees," his wife, Tekla, 22, recalled today, smiling sadly.
Addison made his last phone call home after President Bush's warning last week that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein had 48 hours to vacate power. "He called and said, 'Mama, I do not want to go to war,' " his mother said. "But because he's a person who follows orders, he went."
The Rev. Howard Johnson last saw his son in January, when the two drove 150 miles together from their home in Mobile, Ala., to the airport in New Orleans, where young Howard Johnson was catching a flight back to Fort Bliss. Kuwait awaited him.
"We talked about getting himself in a right and proper relationship with God, so when he went over, God would be there," said the senior Johnson, a pastor at the Truevine Missionary Baptist Church.
The soldier told his father, "Dad, I'm ready, and I know what I'm facing, and I just believe that God is going to do it for me."
Johnson, the youngest child and only son, played drums at his father's church. He belonged to the ROTC at Mobile's LeFlore High School, where he graduated in 2001.
Johnson had planned to enter a technical school to study computers, but one day he stopped at an Army recruitment table set up at a local mall. The recruiter told Johnson he could learn computers in the Army, and Uncle Sam would pay for it. Two weeks later, Johnson enlisted.
On Tuesday, that same recruiter arrived at the Johnson home with news that the soldier had been killed in action.
The report was sparse. There were no details on where or how Johnson died. Other Army emissaries were due to bring additional details, but it was from news reporters that the family learned Johnson had perished in the ambush at Nasiriyah.
"Of course, it matters what happened," said the soldier's oldest sister, Zsaquez Johnson, 33. "We haven't been told any specifics or detail. We are waiting to hear."
Johnson's father said that he is not bitter and that he fully supports the troops. But his opposition to the war in Iraq held steady.
"You know, I don't know a whole lot about war, but in my heart, I don't believe it had to be that way," the grieving father said. "I think if it had been handled better, my son would still be here."
Hull reported from Decatur, Goldstein from Washington. Staff researchers Madonna Lebling and Don Pohlman contributed to this report.