Brian Dunlap's destiny was set during a television news broadcast in 1979. Just 8 years old, he saw pictures of children starving in Africa -- and cried because he couldn't go there and help them.
And that, said his mother, Dorothy Telles, was the beginning of his path. It was a road that would lead him through a difficult adolescence into a life of helping others -- as a firefighter and a Marine.
"You're just a child," she recalled telling him then, "and there's nothing you can do to help these people now. But when you grow up, you're going to be able to help people -- and when he grew up, he chose a life of helping others."
A patriot, an avid reader and a political conservative who wrote on his Internet blog that he wanted to talk to all open-minded people, even "libs," Marine Corps Reserve Sgt. Brian Dunlap, 34, was killed Sept. 24 by a roadside bomb near Baghdad.
Dunlap joined the Marines twice: once as a 20-year-old trying to grow up, his parents said, and again in his 30s as a reservist attached to the 2nd Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Corps Reserve in Los Alamitos.
In between, he worked for the California Department of Forestry as a firefighter, and later joined a firefighting company serving the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton.
He loved the Marines, and got back in partly because he figured that, being single, he should do his part rather than let his friends who had wives and children take all the risk, said his father, Dexter Dunlap of Carmichael, Calif.
Brian Dunlap was deployed on Father's Day last June, and hit the ground in Iraq in August. In the Marine Corps, he worked as a weapons specialist. He had been helping to train members of the Iraqi army, and hoped that his work would enable U.S. soldiers to come home sooner. "He joined the Marines and, basically, that was his life from then on," his father said.
Dunlap was born in 1971 in Fort Madison, Iowa. The family moved around when he and his brother, Patrick, were children, living for a time in the Netherlands and in Boston before settling in the Sacramento-area city of Carmichael when Brian was 13. His father was an engineer in the oil business.
In a lot of ways, he was like his Dad: they shared a blog, they both loved history and they traded books. He was the kind of guy who made friends for a lifetime, his mother said. He loved music, from Mozart to Iron Maiden, and he learned to surf while living near Oceanside and San Diego.
On the blog, which is now filled with condolences from his many friends, Dunlap detailed sad and difficult days in Iraq.
His last entry, dated Sept. 15, was titled "Im [sic] still alive."
"Almost got wacked [sic] again this morning," Dunlap wrote. "That makes 5 times in the last 2 weeks.... I've lost about 11 guys in my Company to injuries.... Please keep praying for me so I can make it home in one piece."