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Army Sgt. 1st Class David L. McDowell, 30, Ramona

Ranger is killed in a firefight with Taliban

June 15, 2008|Mike Anton | Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

David L. McDowell knew at an early age what he wanted to be: an Army man just like his father.

"He started playing Army when he was 3 years old -- and he kept doing it," said his mother, Laurie Wathen. "We kind of thought he'd grow out of it, but he never did. He had his whole life planned out."

McDowell enlisted while he was a senior at Poway High School in San Diego County. He graduated in June 1996 and was in uniform that July 1.

An Army Ranger sergeant first class, he was killed April 29 in a firefight with Taliban forces in Bastion in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, southwest of Kabul. McDowell, 30, was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Ft. Lewis, Wash. He was serving his seventh deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"He always looked up to my dad," said his sister Michele DeLay. "They shared a special bond. He thought my dad was the coolest person in the world. At 30, he was just like my dad in every way."

Steven McDowell, who lives in North Carolina, had made a career in the Army, serving in the 82nd Airborne Division. When David was a boy, his father regaled him with tales of adventure and introduced him to his comrades.

It made a powerful impression. "It became this overpowering thing in his life," his mother said. "It's all he focused on. He drove friends crazy because [the Army] was all he wanted to talk about."

David McDowell was born Oct. 17, 1977, in Honolulu. He grew up in North Carolina, South Carolina and Italy. When his father retired, the family moved to the San Diego County town of Ramona. An avid surfer and skateboarder, McDowell had an unbridled curiosity and a sharp sense of humor, family members said.

A platoon sergeant with the elite Rangers, he initially rode the bench on his high school football team because he didn't like the bruising contact on the field. "He didn't want to hurt his teammates," said his mother, who lives in Julian, east of Ramona. "He wasn't a fighter. He just wanted to have fun."

McDowell became a fighter but never lost his sensitive side, his sister said. Seeing combat brought it out even more. DeLay recalled talking to her brother after his first deployment. "He wasn't the same. He was more emotional," she said. "He lost people there. It humbled him. I could see something in his eyes -- that he had changed."

It was the first time she had ever seen him cry.

McDowell is survived by his high school sweetheart and wife, Joleen; a son, Joshua, 12; and a daughter, Erin, 3, all of Lakewood, Wash.

He was posthumously awarded a second Bronze Star for valor -- one of the military's highest honors -- and a Purple Heart.

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mike.anton@latimes.com

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