Ian Stewart, 21, of Lake Hughes joined the Marine Corps three years ago to help find himself and was looking forward to returning home next year.
The 2001 graduate of Quartz Hill High School had discussed becoming a firefighter but first wanted to travel around Europe and spend more time customizing a four-wheel-drive 2003 GMC Sonoma that he bought this summer.
"He always had a lifelong fascination with cars, trucks and motorcycles," said his father, Dana Stewart, executive director of The Oaks Conference and Retreat Center, where Ian grew up.
The nondenominational Christian facility in the San Gabriel Mountains is operated by a Los Angeles-based ministry focused on disadvantaged youth and their families.
Stewart entered the Marines three days after he finished high school, on Father's Day 2001. He completed boot camp the week of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Coincidently, he deployed to Iraq on Sept. 11 of this year.
Last week, Marine Cpl. Ian Wesley Stewart was killed by small-arms fire while his unit was clearing houses in Fallouja. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.
"We were praying for his safety, but God moved differently. We trust God's judgment, but we don't care much for his time schedule," Stewart's father said. "But we have real peace.... We're confident we'll see him again, and that beautiful smile of his, in heaven."
Being the son of missionaries, Ian Stewart "had to work through what his faith meant to him," his father said.
And joining the Marines was part of that quest, said Roy Dull, who led a weekly Bible study in his home that attracted 20 to 30 teens, including the young Stewart.
"He picked the Marines because he thought it would give him the discipline and the focus he needs in figuring out who he's supposed to be," said Dull, a captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Though faced with the same peer pressure as other teenagers, Stewart never smoked or drank. A strong moral core helped him resist such temptations, Dull said.
"Ian was a very quiet, calculated young man. There was a real deep side to him," Dull said. "His relationship with his parents meant the world to him. His parents gave him a great foundation."
When he turned 14, Stewart spent summers working at The Oaks, sometimes in the kitchen but mostly trimming, pruning and doing other landscaping work on the facility's nearly 650 acres.
His father, Dull and others commended his work ethic. Stewart earned enough money to buy his first truck, a Chevrolet S-10, in 2000. He also received school credit for his labors by signing up for the Quartz Hill work experience program in his senior year.
"He was very respectful, responsible and courteous. You could tell he had a good heart and was going in the right direction," said Patricia Beane, his instructor.
Kenny Souza, 22, graduated with Stewart and remembers spending more than 20 hours one weekend teaching his friend how to customize his truck.
The son of a mechanic, Souza showed Stewart how to lower the Chevy closer to the ground and how to install a CD player.
"That was his passion. He wanted to learn how to do these things," Souza said, adding that Stewart asked him just days before leaving for Iraq to look for a good deal on a motorcycle he could buy when he was discharged.
Dana Stewart recalled how the last day he saw his son became a family reunion of sorts. He and his wife, Dawn, took their youngest son, Benjamin, 13, to Orange County to see Ian the day before he shipped out. On the way, they stopped by Los Angeles International Airport to pick up their daughter, Julia, 24, who had just begun a vacation from her job working for a ministry that helps homeless teens in Seattle.
The five of them walked around the harbor at Dana Point, ate lunch at a Mexican restaurant in San Juan Capistrano and watched the sunset over Laguna Niguel
"It was just the most special day. We realized it at the time, but we realize it more now. We just enjoyed ourselves," Dana Stewart said. "It's not that we did anything special, but it was all special what we did."
A memorial service with full military honors for Ian Stewart was scheduled Saturday at The Oaks. Stewart's family was presented a Purple Heart that he was awarded posthumously.
Funeral services are scheduled Dec. 29 in Princeville, Ill., and Stewart will be buried across the road from his family's original home.