There was something sweetly old-fashioned about Marine Lance Cpl. John Lucente, who was among five Marines killed Nov. 16 in combat in Ubaydi, Iraq, an insurgent stronghold near the Syrian border.
The 19-year-old Grass Valley, Calif., resident went to church regularly, enlisted in the Marine Corps in his junior year in high school, held down a summer job as a dishwasher and never failed to tell his family that he loved them.
"During his high school years, a lot of the times we had movie nights, game nights, he opted to do that rather than go hang out with friends," said his mother, Kristine Mason. "He was always giving us hugs, always telling us he loved us."
A 2004 graduate of Bear River High School, Lucente was killed by a hand grenade during Operation Steel Curtain. He had been in Iraq for a month.
Lucente was assigned to Battalion Landing Team 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. As part of Operation Iraqi Freedom, his unit was attached to the 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward).
Nicknamed J.T., Lucente started talking about the military early in high school and chose the Marine Corps even though his family tried to nudge him toward the Coast Guard or another, less hazardous branch.
"He always kept coming back to them," his mother said. "At that point, when you have a young man who's so determined to do something, all you can do is stand behind him."
Lucente departed from San Diego earlier this year on a worldwide tour on the amphibious transport dock Cleveland, where he was taking two college courses: world history and American history.
His mother said that, even though Iraq was not on the original itinerary for the ship of first responders, she expected her son to eventually wind up in Iraq, but not on the front lines.
In his last e-mail home, Lucente asked for prayers for his safety and that of others in Operation Steel Curtain, which was launched earlier this month with 2,500 Marines, soldiers and sailors, as well as 1,000 Iraqi soldiers.
The assault was said to be the first time that battalion-sized Iraqi units have fought alongside U.S. forces in restive Al Anbar province, stretching west almost from Baghdad to the Syrian border. The province is a stronghold of Sunni-led insurgents fighting the American-backed Iraqi government.
Born in Fresno, Lucente moved north with his family to the growing Sierra foothill community of Grass Valley in 1999. He was quiet and hard-working, liked to play paintball and attended services at Calvary Chapel Grass Valley.
During summers, he washed dishes and prepared food in the kitchen at Alta Sierra Country Club, where his stepfather, Shawn Mason, worked as a golf professional. "He was a good kid, he always was," his mother said.
In addition to his mother and stepfather, Lucente is survived by two brothers, Cris, 15, and 2-month-old Jake; and a sister Cassie, 9. Jake was given his name by Lucente, his mother said.