Army Spc. Joseph A. Graves, a native of Discovery Bay, Calif., who married his childhood sweetheart shortly before he deployed to Iraq last fall, was killed July 25 in an ambush of his convoy.
Graves, 21, was the only casualty in what military officials reported as an elaborate attack in the Baghdad area by insurgents driving vehicles with heavy mounted weapons, said his father, Kevin.
The soldier was assigned to the 110th Military Police Company, 720th Military Police Battalion, 89th Military Police Brigade at Ft. Hood, Texas.
The elder Graves said his son had become increasingly circumspect earlier this year in discussing the dangers in Iraq after he began providing convoy security in a conflict marked by deadly roadside bombs.
The soldier's wife, Cori, 20, said she didn't press her husband for details of combat duty and knows little about the mission that took his life. The two started dating as teenagers in Discovery Bay, about 45 miles east of San Francisco.
"I'm at peace with the little things that I have been told, and it's been minimal, to protect myself from getting hurt or upset," his wife said. "I don't need to know any more. He was there, he was doing a job that he wanted, and I'm OK with that."
Cori Graves, who attends a community college in Texas, said they were married in October in a civil ceremony near Ft. Hood.
Joseph Graves' mother, Maryan Perreira of Newman, Calif., west of Merced, remembers worrying more about her son once his convoy duty began.
"My baby was only 21 years old," she said. "Ready for Iraq and war? I don't think anybody is ready for something like that."
Graves and his father last spoke by telephone on Father's Day. "I asked him if everything was OK, had he seen much action," the elder Graves recalled. "He said, 'Dad, don't worry about it. There's a lot worse places to be than where I am in Iraq.' That wasn't really true."
Graves' parents, who divorced when he was 3 years old, remember signing papers at the start of their son's senior year in high school that allowed him to enlist in the Army at 17. This guaranteed him a position with a military police unit once he graduated in 2003. He saw the move as a way of helping him become an FBI agent down the road.
"This was not a misdirected youth who had nothing to do with his life," his father said.
The elder Graves remembers being surprised when his son, after completing basic training, went off to jump school at Ft. Benning, Ga., for airborne training. "This was a kid I could hardly get to ski down a ski slope, because it was too intimidating," he said. "And now he's jumping out of airplanes."
After an initial deployment to South Korea, Graves had barely returned to the U.S. before receiving orders last year to head for Iraq in November.
His father, who had raised him as a single parent since Joseph was 10, hurriedly planned his second wedding last October to coincide with his son's return.
"We set up our wedding around him being my best man, because he was my best friend," said his father, an account executive for a large residential home contractor.
In the weeks before his death, the soldier had begun counting the days until he came home. He was looking forward to seeing his younger brother, Brandon, whom he corresponded with regularly on MySpace.com, and settling down with his bride.
"We had saved like pack rats to get a house," Cori Graves said. "He was very anxious to get home. We had spent a good part of his military career apart, and it was just time."
Graves' MySpace page tragically records the last time he logged on -- July 24, the day before his death. It is now replete with posthumous tributes from his fellow MPs in Iraq.
"Joey, you were a hell of a good friend, man," says one, written by a soldier who identifies himself only as Allan. "It's still tough to get it through this thick head of mine that you're gone. I'll keep the fight going till the end, brother."
Says another soldier, named Josh: "I just want you to know that you will be greatly missed by all of us, and there will always be a place in our hearts for you. For all of you that are just browsing through, or didn't really know him, Joe was a good man and an outstanding soldier. See you soon, buddy."