When he died, Marine Cpl. Dale A. Burger Jr. was exactly two weeks shy of finishing his second tour in Iraq.
He was in the country for six months in 2003. He had seen the wreckage and beauty of life there. He had seen the war there and had savored the sweetness of the pomegranates farmers gave him to eat. He had come home this year to Port Deposit, Md., and attended the funeral of his father, Dale A. Burger Sr., a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam War.
He saluted his father's coffin at Arlington National Cemetery. And he went back to Iraq.
His mother, Martina, told her son that she did not understand this war.
She recalled him saying to her: "Mom, I'm not supposed to talk about it, but those people need us. We need to help them."
Last week, he was struck by shrapnel in the forearm, and he had to sit out a few days because of the injury. It was 2:30 a.m. Saturday when he called his mother to say he was going back into battle.
"I'm going back with my men," he told her.
"Do you have to go back, Dale?" she recalled asking
"These are my guys. They need me."
Burger, a 21-year-old rifleman assigned to the 3rd Battalion of the 1st Marine Regiment, was killed Sunday as a result of enemy action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
The Marine Corps would give no further details, but the province includes Fallujah, where Army troops and Marines launched a major assault Nov. 7 aimed at driving out insurgents who had made a stronghold there.
At least 38 members of the U.S. military and six Iraqi soldiers have died in the offensive, according to the Pentagon.
Burger, who was based at Camp Pendleton in California, is the third Marine from Maryland to die in Iraq in the past week. One from Woodbridge also was killed in the fighting.
Burger's family remembers him as a caring person, full of life. When he was a teenager, he gave up his Christmas mornings to pack and deliver meals-on-wheels to invalids, his mother said.
When he was grown, he carried his disabled father up the stairs, cradled in his arms like a child.
His large family was proud of him. Last Wednesday, his 5-year-old nephew, Kyle Frost, brought his photograph to a pre-Veterans Day celebration at his kindergarten in Englewood, Fla., and the image was published in the local newspaper.
When Burger was home this summer and the entire family was gathered for his father's funeral, he cherished his time with his seven sisters.
"He was very protective of us," said his sister, Jennifer Burger. "It's so hard. It meant so much for him to be a Marine."
He saw Iraq the way his father saw Vietnam, his mother said.
"He saw the people," Martina Burger said. "It was not just the war we saw on TV."