Army Capt. James F. Adamouski's Black Hawk helicopter was delayed an hour because of a starter problem last Wednesday, just long enough for another soldier to hand Adamouski an e-mail from his wife of seven months.
In the e-mail, Meighan Adamouski, who met her husband when both attended Robert E. Lee High School in Springfield a decade ago, confided that "I wake up every day with more love in my heart for you than I had the night before" and that she was praying for his safe return: "Once you walk off that airplane the tears will pour out."
After Adamouski finished reading those words, according to soldiers who were present, he cracked a broad grin. "God, it's great to hear from home," he said, folding the note, putting it in the breast pocket of his uniform and boarding the flight that ended his life.
Yesterday, the Department of Defense identified Adamouski, 29, as among the six soldiers who died Wednesday when a UH-60 helicopter crashed in central Iraq. The crash is under investigation.
Friends and relatives who gathered at his parents' home in Northern Virginia yesterday remembered Adamouski, president of his senior class at Lee and a member of the soccer team at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, as an achiever with great potential.
Adamouski, the son of a Vietnam veteran, served four military tours in Bosnia and Kosovo before being deployed to Kuwait in January. He was due back in the States in time to begin classes this fall at Harvard Business School. Then he and Meighan, an elementary school teacher, were to return to West Point, where an economics teaching position awaited.
"The hardest part," his mother, Judith, said yesterday, "is thinking about the future -- what he could have been."
Adamouski's fifth overseas deployment was probably going to be his last, family and friends said. In his final e-mail home, he said that conditions in Iraq were some of the worst he had ever seen.
"The dust here is unbearable," he wrote Meighan on March 31, two days before his death, "and I have just about had it. . . . I have my cough and sore throat back after the wicked sandstorm we endured on Tuesday, the worst yet. . . . All of my equipment and exposed skin changed color because of all the dust. Of course, it rained that night as well and I woke up in a mud puddle, talk about miserable."
Don't misunderstand, he cautioned. "I am proud to be a soldier and proud to be doing a noble job, and leading my soldiers is an honor and something that I cherish." But "for all the good things we are doing here, I just plain miss you."
As proud as he was of his service, he said, he wanted to "start concentrating on you and starting a family." He was already imagining "talking long walks in Cambridge" and "raising a family at West Point."
Although the couple met as classmates at Lee, they didn't start dating until seven years after graduating in 1991. In high school, Meighan Adamouski, 29, recalled yesterday from her home in Savannah, they were really different. "He was class president, and I was always trying to skip out of school," she said.
But after their first date, arranged by one of his sisters, Meighan recalled thinking, "I'm going to be Mrs. Adamouski someday."
It was Jimmy, as his family called him, who persuaded her to go to college and even helped with the cost, she said.
"He was my biggest cheerleader. We lived life to the fullest, and I have no regrets at all," said Meighan, who was married only four months before her husband shipped out to Kuwait. "I want the nation to know what a hero my husband was."
That same sentiment compelled Frank and Judith Adamouski to talk about their only son with reporters.
"He accomplished more in the 29 years he was here than what most people do in 80," said Frank Adamouski, 63. "If he had a commitment to do something, there was nothing going to stop him. . . . He was the type of person that when he touched people, it would set off a ripple effect."
Their son was raised Catholic and served as a Eucharistic minister to other soldiers in Kuwait, they said. Other family members recalled him as an avid soccer player who joined a semiprofessional team when he was stationed in Germany.
Judith Adamouski, 56, said that when the family first heard that there had been a helicopter crash in the Iraqi desert, "we didn't believe it was Jimmy. You never believe it's your son until they tell you."
Official notification came Thursday, and the Adamouskis left for Georgia to spend the weekend with their daughter-in-law.
At Lee High School yesterday, Adamouski's ninth-grade earth science teacher remembered him as a natural leader who made an impression even on his teachers. "Jimmy helped me formulate how I look at students," said Mary Schaefer, who has been teaching for 22 years. She added that she now sees potential in "every student, since I taught Jimmy." Reflecting on his death, she said, "It's like we've lost a star."
Army Capt. Christopher Dodd, Adamouski's best man and fellow member of West Point's Class of 1995, said: "He's a hero not only to me and his family, but he should be a hero to the younger generations. He did the ultimate sacrifice."
Adamouski, who had lived in Springfield since seventh grade, had logged more than 1,000 hours as a Black Hawk pilot, but he was not at the controls at the time of Wednesday's crash, according to the Associated Press.
Adamouski is the third Virginian known to have died in the war. Marine Staff Sgt. Donald C. May Jr., 31, of Richmond was killed March 25 when his tank went into the Euphrates River. Marine Sgt. Michael V. Lalush, 23, of Troutville died March 30 in a helicopter crash.