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Army Spc. James L. Beckstrand, 27, Escondido; Among 8 Killed by Bomb

May 09, 2004|William Wan | Times Staff Writer

This might have been his last year in the military. After four years in the Marine Corps and more than three in the Army, Spc. James L. Beckstrand had talked to friends about hanging up his uniform and returning to live in Escondido, his hometown.

Beckstrand, 27, had already finished one tour in Iraq, part of the first wave of soldiers transported to the region for the invasion in 2003. When he returned to the U.S., he married his Italian-born wife, Marilena, over the summer. They had a honeymoon in Escondido and a few months together before he was deployed again -- first to Germany, then Iraq.

In Baghdad, he served on a patrol team that detected and removed bombs from roads near the city, according to military officials.

On April 29, Beckstrand's unit was working on a rural road about 18 miles south of Baghdad when a driver in a station wagon detonated a car bomb near them. Beckstrand was killed, along with seven other soldiers of the Army's 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Armored Division in Baumholder, Germany.

In the following days, his family and friends remembered the boy and man they called "Jimmy."

Born in Reno, Beckstrand moved to Escondido with his family when he was in the third grade. He grew up in the small town, raised mainly by his father, Lee Beckstrand, after his parents divorced.

Even so, there was never a shortage of people around Beckstrand, whom friends described as a popular and affable boy who was adventurous. In eighth grade, he met his best friend, Jeremy Kinder, the new kid at school, talking to him when no one else would. As they became friends, Beckstrand adopted Kinder's mother, Joan Bridgman, as his own.

"He used to call me 'Mom,' " she said. "We were just a second family to him."

After high school, Beckstrand worked a few odd jobs before enlisting in the Marine Corps.

It just seemed as if that's what he wanted to do, Kinder said. After finishing his Marine enlistment, Beckstrand signed up for the Army.

From Iraq, Beckstrand told his family and friends about his life through e-mails.

In one, he requested a package, asking for baby wipes (to help deal with the dust and dirt), a portable fan (to fend off the heat), and hard candy (which even Iraq's sultry temperatures wouldn't melt).

The messages were short and came infrequently, a fact for which Beckstrand apologized and explained: "I just don't get a chance to check it often. You know, 50 computers for 10,000 soldiers."

He ended his last e-mail to friends in Escondido, saying, "Love you all. Miss you too. Hope to see you again."

A week and a half before the car bomb explosion, Bridgman mailed the package she had promised to Beckstrand, adding a picture of him and his wife from their recent honeymoon.

"I don't know if he ever received it," she said.

Beckstrand also is survived by his mother, Kathy Genoway; two brothers, Michael Eric and Lance Aaron; and a sister, Rebecca.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Emmanuel Faith Community Church, 639 E. Felicita Ave., Escondido.

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