Sean Andrew Stokes received a hero's welcome when he returned home to Northern California from Iraq after his first tour of duty in early 2005.
The young Marine was glad to be home, he told a television reporter at the airport, but added: "We mourn the guys we lost and rejoice with the guys who came back."
In the fall of that year, he again deployed with the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 1st Regiment. Then in 2007, he extended his enlistment once more and started his third combat tour. He was killed July 30 in a roadside blast near Fallouja.
Last week, on what would have been his 25th birthday, Stokes, who had been promoted to corporal, was posthumously awarded the Silver Star -- the nation's third-highest medal for combat bravery.
His family accepted the medal at a ceremony at Camp Pendleton in which he was praised for his valor during the battle of Fallouja, when he led Marines in routing out barricaded insurgents. He was described as a fearless fighter who saved the lives of several fellow Marines.
The citation noted that Stokes was severely injured by a grenade blast when his squad stormed an insurgent-held dwelling during operations on Nov. 17, 2004. Stokes, who was then a private, refused to be evacuated or relinquish his leadership role.
"Though dazed and wounded from the blast, and rather than attempting to save himself and exit the building," Stokes concerned himself with the safety of other Marines and put forth a blast of suppressive gunfire at insurgents that allowed the Marines to counterattack, the citation said.
Stokes, the citation said, was "fearless in the face of danger." An officer has estimated that Stokes killed at least nine insurgents during the days of heavy fighting in Fallouja.
Born in Fremont, Stokes grew up in Auburn and graduated from Bear River High School. He loved fishing and football and was devoted to his family and his country.
Immediately after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, he said he wanted to enlist. His family resisted, so he waited until he was 18 and did not need parental permission.
He wasn't pushed into his third deployment.
"I told him that he didn't need to deploy again," Lt. Jeff Sommers told The Times after his death. "He fought in the biggest battle in decades and had a good life waiting for him. He persisted."
Stokes' father, Gary, has started the Sean Andrew Stokes Memorial Organization, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping the families of military personnel killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. In an e-mail, Gary Stokes said his goal is to keep his son's legend alive.