Lance Cpl. Patrick Adle joined the military reserves three years ago, as a way to pay for college. He became a Marine Corps reservist because of family tradition.
His cousins Josh and Bruce Tackett were Marine reservists, and their father served in Vietnam.
"We're a family of Marines," said Josh Tackett, a corporal.
The three family members were in Iraq at the same time during Adle's first tour of duty, and Josh Tackett bumped into his cousin unexpectedly one day as their units headed home.
On Tuesday, Adle, 21, became the first member of his family to die in combat since his great-uncle was killed at Iwo Jima during World War II, Josh Tackett said in a telephone interview last night.
Adle and two other Marines were killed as their Humvee was struck by the explosion of a roadside bomb in eastern Baghdad, Tackett said. Two other Marines were seriously wounded in the blast, which followed Monday's transfer of political authority from the United States to an interim Iraqi government.
Department of Defense officials have yet to release the names of the three Marines who died. Josh Tackett said Marine Corps officials notified Adle's parents on Tuesday.
Adle graduated from high school in 2001 but did not go to college after finding a well-paying job as a forklift operator at a Baltimore lumber yard, Tackett said. The Harford County native lived with his mother in Bel Air, Md.
He played football and lacrosse in high school and recently picked up surfing as a hobby. He had "a million friends, always popular," Tackett said.
"He was just young and having fun, just wanted to enjoy his life," Tackett said.
In the reserve, Adle worked as a heavy equipment operator. His unit was shipped home about six months ago. Shortly before returning from his first tour in Iraq, he met up with Tackett in Kuwait, the cousin said.
"Almost every day, we were sitting around smoking and joking," he said. "He was more than happy to be there. He volunteered to stay even longer to serve his country."
Adle stayed behind in North Carolina to help his unit unload equipment and never returned to Maryland, Tackett said. His unit was recalled to Iraq several months ago.
Tackett recalled telling his cousin before he left to be safe, to keep his head down.
"He's a hero," he said. "He died fighting for our freedom."