For several months, Army Spc. Arron R. Clark gave soldiers serving with him in Iraq his two-week passes, which would have allowed him to visit his mother in Northern California.
"Mom, they have babies they have not seen," he explained in letters to his mother, Tamela Lyne Clark, 45, of Chico. "I hope you understand."
The 20-year-old Chico native promised his mother he would come home on his scheduled Jan. 8 return to the United States to attend the Army Ranger School.
But Clark was killed Dec. 5 when an explosive device detonated next to his Humvee in Baghdad.
"He was my only child," his mother said Thursday as she waited in Sacramento for her son's body, which was being escorted home by his cousin, Lisa Herrik, 28, of Chico, who is an Army helicopter pilot stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C.
Clark, who was assigned to the 440th Signal Battalion, 22nd Signal Brigade, V Corps in Darmstadt, Germany, will be buried Wednesday in the Veterans Honor Field section of Chico's Glen Oaks Memorial Park Cemetery.
As of Friday, 452 American servicemen and servicewomen have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 314 since major fighting ended May 1.
Clark is one of 51 men and women with ties to California who have died, four of them this month.
Clark had dreamed of joining the military since he was 7. His maternal grandfather, George Clark, 75, of Chico, served two tours as an Army sergeant in the Korean War, and his paternal grandfather, David Beebe, also of Chico, served in the Marines.
Clark -- whose father, James Allen Beebe, died in 1986 at age 31 -- attended Chico and Fairview high schools, received his graduation equivalency diploma early in his senior year and joined the Army in 2001.
He was deployed to Iraq in March, his mother said. In the early days of the war, his unit trekked north across the desert on its way to Baghdad.
In letters, his mother said, he wrote that he did not believe the United States should be involved in the war. More recently, he said he was "losing his mind" watching the casualties mount.
But after he was accepted into the Army Ranger School, Clark reenlisted Nov. 1.
Clark also is survived by two half brothers, Dwayne Beebe of San Diego and James Allen Beebe Jr. of Hanford, Calif.; and his paternal grandmother, Bonnie Beebe of Chico.