Before he left for the Middle East in June, Phillip Gordon West looked forward to traveling overseas as a Marine to join Operation Iraqi Freedom.
"He was so excited about going to war. He was so proud of himself and proud to serve his country," said friend and co-worker Vicki Zink. "He was glowing. He was on a mission."
A 19-year-old rifleman from the Northern California city of American Canyon, about 10 miles south of Napa, West advanced to the rank of lance corporal once in Iraq and received three commendations for superior performance in his first two months of deployment.
In addition to occasionally providing medical attention to fellow Marines on the battlefield, West is credited with discovering an explosive device buried by insurgents that was unearthed and removed before it caused injuries. West was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. He was killed in action Nov. 19 during a sweep by Marines of houses in Fallouja.
West is Napa County's first casualty in Iraq and the first person from American Canyon, a town of 14,000, to die in combat.
Zink and others who worked with West when he was a city lifeguard said he was determined to become a Marine after his June 2003 graduation from Vintage High School in Napa, where he was a member of the football team. Along with school and his job, West made time for workouts two or three times a week with local recruiters.
"Phillip was energetic. He had tons and tons of energy. Whenever people were tired, he'd come in and pick up the place," said Erin Booth-Sahs, West's former supervisor. "He was incredibly dependable. I always knew I could count on him."
During more than two years working for the city, West taught scores of children ages 4 to 7 how to swim, including Zink's son Clayton, who is now 8 years old.
A candlelight vigil and march in remembrance of West, which drew about 300 people, concluded at the city's pool complex.
American Canyon City Manager Mark Joseph said the City Council was expected to rename the facility the Philip G. West Aquatic Center next month.
"I think it's fabulous," Zink said. "It was the first job he had; his only job outside the Marines. I know he'd be very proud."
City officials dedicated the town's annual tree-lighting ceremony to West and arranged for the Marine's Dec. 4 memorial service to be held in the city gymnasium to accommodate the anticipated crowd. Nearly 800 people showed up to pay their respects, Joseph said.
West was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart.
He is survived by his parents, Edward and Mimie West; a brother, Kyle, 15; and a sister, Megan, 14, all of American Canyon; and his grandparents, Alton and Janie West of Weed, Calif.