SAN MARCOS, Calif. — Seventeen days after President Bush declared victory in Iraq, Lance Cpl. Jason William Moore was killed when his chopper crashed south of Baghdad.
Moore, a 21-year-old San Marcos resident, was already talking about hitting the beaches in San Diego. He hoped to return in time to celebrate the Fourth of July, his sister said.
But instead of planning his homecoming party, the family is arranging for Jason's funeral.
"He was truly looking forward to coming home," said his mother, Gale Moore.
Jason was killed Monday when his CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter plunged into the Shatt Al Hillah Canal shortly after takeoff for a resupply mission. Three other Camp Pendleton Marines died in the crash: Capt. Andrew David Lamont, 31, of Eureka; 1st Lt. Timothy Louis Ryan, 30, of Aurora, Ill., and Staff Sgt. Aaron Dean White, 27, of Shawnee, Okla.
Another Camp Pendleton Marine, Sgt. Kirk Allen Straseskie, 23, of Beaver Dam, Wis., drowned trying to rescue the four.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. Officials told family members that there was no sign of enemy fire.
The threat of battle was supposed to be past, and cable news no longer carried 24-hour coverage.
"We had some sense of peace that the war was over, and he would be home," said Chris Scolamieri, a neighbor of the Moores who knew Jason for years. "He made it through 21 combat missions, and it appears this was an accident."
Moore's mother mulls over various alternative scenarios. What if, for instance, her son had been reassigned to become a crew chief instructor at Camp Pendleton, the job he'd been told he would have next, instead of flying that resupply mission?
"I wished they had sent them home when things were done," she said. "He had his whole life, and things were going good for him."
A total of 162 servicemen and women were killed during the war. In the days since Bush pronounced that the United States had prevailed, 23 have lost their lives. Of those, four came from California.
It surprised no one when Jason Moore decided to join the Marine Corps, his goal since age 5, a friend said. His father and uncles had been in the Navy. His older sister Michelle, 22, was in the Air Force for three years. But Jason wanted to be a Marine because he believed it was even tougher than the Navy or Air Force, his mother said.
"He liked the challenge," she said.
Moore was deployed to Iraq on Feb. 9, eight days before his 21st birthday.
Later, a commanding officer from another unit would send an e-mail to his family, telling them what a pleasure it had been to fly with Moore, his mother recalled.
On the phone with his family, Moore sounded upbeat. "He was doing what he was sent to do,'' Gale said.
It wasn't just that Moore liked to feel that he was being asked to do his utmost. He loved to be useful.
When neighbors left on vacation, they'd bring him keys and ask him to keep an eye on their home and pets. He'd always volunteer to help out, and he never accepted money.
"He always wanted to help people," his mother said. "He was very strong. He was my rock."
Moore had a pilot's license to fly Cessnas and loved scuba diving, surfing, body-boarding and deep sea fishing. He was a rock climber and enjoyed tearing through the desert off-road in his truck, a 1984 Jeep Wagoneer with a lifted body and huge tires.
Family friends thought he was mature. Buddies described him as gung-ho and honorable.
"He was always so hoorah in everyday life," said David Terry, 21, a close friend who attended San Marcos High School with Moore.
The two used to shoot paint-ball guns in the woods, wearing full camouflage and face paint. They also went off-roading together, even when Moore drove a 1984 Mazda 626. They'd load the back with 2-by-4s, shovels and picks so they could dig the car out when it got stuck.
This summer, Moore was going to be the best man at Terry's wedding.
"Before, I would have given anything to get him home before the wedding," Terry said. "Now, I would give anything just to get him home."
When Moore learned he was going to war, Terry said, "he was definitely overcome by a certain seriousness. As kids, all we wanted to do was become Navy SEALs and shoot things. He definitely started to think of eternity."
In March, a Camp Pendleton helicopter crashed in the war. Initially, Moore's family worried that he was aboard. It turned out to be a chopper from the hangar next to his unit's.
Later, when Moore called his sister to see how she'd done on her test to become an emergency medical technician, she explained that it hadn't gone well since it came in the middle of the uncertainty about the downed chopper and she was too upset to focus.
Moore apologized and told her not to worry, he'd come home, she remembered.
"We were best friends," said Michelle, who lives in Washington. "We shared everything. I never had anyone as close to me as my brother."
Their conversations, sometimes by phone, other times by e-mail, ricocheted from one topic to another.