Derek Simonetta "will always be my everything, says his wife, Kim.… (Department of Defense )
Home on leave from Afghanistan in October, Army Spc. Derek Simonetta seemed to have undergone a transformation.
"He left a boy, not knowing who he was going to be or where he was going to be, and he came back a man who knew … what he wanted to do with his life," recalled Craig Lozinto, 20, a high school friend.
Simonetta's time in Afghanistan had helped him realize that he wanted to become a police officer, according to friends and family.
"He wanted to do better for his community," Lozinto said.
Simonetta never got the chance. He was killed Dec. 12 along with five other soldiers when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden minibus at a remote outpost in the Zhari district of southern Afghanistan's Kandahar province, on the Pakistani border.
He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Ft. Campbell, Ky.
Simonetta, who was promoted to the rank of corporal after his death, had joined the Army in September 2008, on the heels of finishing his high school GED, or general equivalency diploma.
"He wanted to better his life, and have a steady income, and have a family with me someday," said his wife, Kim Simonetta, 21, of Redwood City, south of San Francisco.
"He will always be my everything," she added. "I am going to live my life on the path we would have taken together."
The two were high school sweethearts who married in June 2009. At first they lived together in Tennessee when Simonetta was stationed at nearby Ft. Campbell, Ky., but when he deployed to Afghanistan in June 2010, he asked her to return home to the Bay Area to be around family and friends.
Simonetta grew up in the southern suburbs of San Francisco and then in Redding, north of Sacramento. He played football in high school and had a love of rap music. He had a special gift, friends said, of being able to offer up a quotation from rap lyrics for every imaginable circumstance of life.
"It didn't matter what [the situation was], he could do it," Lozinto said. "He just made you laugh … he had the biggest heart of anyone I've ever known."
Simonetta's mother, Tanya Simonetta, 42, of Redding, said she had been looking forward to her son coming home from Afghanistan and settling with his wife where she could see them.
"He was a joy in my life. I'm so proud for him to serve for our country," she said.
Her son had "a lot of plans in life," she said. "I wish he was here to complete them."
In addition to his wife and mother, Simonetta is survived by his father, James Lemp, of Redwood City; a brother, Jordan, 12, of Redding; and his grandparents, Paul and Bonnie Simonetta, of Redding.