21-year-old Sgt. Justin Dean Norton died in Baghdad over the weekend.
His family says Justin always knew what he wanted to be when he grew up.
"Since that kid was itty bitty, he wanted to go into the Army," said Jeff Norton, Justin's father.
So his announcement three years ago was no surprise.
"He joined the Army his senior year of high school on Spring Break," Jeff Norton said. "Comes home and he said, 'I joined the Army today. I'm going into the Army.' "
Norton was in a firefight Saturday in Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded, killing him. His family last saw him on a break in February.
After the two week visit, it was a difficult goodbye for his father.
"I know the last time I put him on a plane, I stayed and watched," he said. "I'd usually just drop him off and leave. I stayed and watched that plane. Just one of those things. You never know.
And for his stepfather.
"We said goodbye on the porch and the back of your mind, is this the last time you're going to see your kid? And it was," said Gary Warnock, Justin's stepfather.
The extended family pulls close today as they say they've done for Justin's whole life. Honoring their son.
"I can't say that I always agree with the reasons that we may be there, but I support my son and I support those boys that are over there," Jeff Norton said.
By the Associated Press count, Justin Norton is the 2,522nd member of the US military to die since the beginning of the Iraq war.
"I never thought my boy would be one of those numbers up there, the 25-hundred," Jeff Norton said.
But his family wants you to know he was so much more than a number.
"He died doing what he wanted to do," Warnock said. "For that, we're very proud of him. But I just feel cheated."
"For me, he was a hero," Jeff Norton said. "He was a hero."
Family members will escort Sgt. Norton's body home. His family is still making funeral plans, but say Justin will not be buried in a national cemetery, instead wanting to be buried in a local cemetery where he worked a summer job. One of his duties was pulling weeds around the veteran's wall and he wanted to join those members of his hometown.