Lance Cpl. Brandon Garabrant, a 19-year-old from Greenfield who loved being a Marine and a firefighter, gave his life for his country Friday.
Garabrant was one of three Marines killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, where he was serving in the final months of America's combat mission there, according to officials.
He was the son of John Garabrant and Jessie Garabrant and had a younger brother and sister, Jacob and Mykala.
Jessie Garabrant, who lives in Rindge, said her son was an extraordinary person. "He was such a good kid, with such a good heart, he's going to be missed by a lot of people," she said.
"It's too bad he had such a short life. But he did make the most of it, and he did go out doing what he loved," she said. "I just wish I could have one more conversation with him."
The family plans to be there when Garabrant's body arrives at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. A second dignified service will take place when he arrives at the Manchester airport, which could come as early as Tuesday, she said.
The first time she and Brandon met with a recruiter, they both knew being a Marine was his calling, she said.
"Part of it was serving others, and the other part was the brotherhood that came along with being a Marine. And the fact that he earned it ... was overwhelming for him. That was just his dream."
Garabrant, a 2013 graduate of ConVal Regional High School in Peterborough, became the focus of national attention last year after his request to graduate in his Marine Corps dress uniform was turned down. He chose not to fight the decision and to graduate in traditional cap and gown "out of respect for the USMC and ConVal," he said at the time.
His death has rocked his many friends, classmates and loved ones.
Last evening, members of the Temple Fire Department draped black and purple banners at the fire station, "just to let people know that we've lost a firefighter," said retired Fire Chief Michael Connolly.
Connolly was chief when Garabrant asked to join the department at the age of 17, before he was old enough to serve officially. The teen had been an Explorer for Peterborough fire and police and had the training to do the job, Connolly said.
So the Temple department let him come on board as sort of a junior member, and "we voted him in on his 18th birthday," he said.
Garabrant "was a Marine from day one," Connolly said. "That's all he ever talked about, ever since I knew him."
But he also loved the fire service and would have made a fine full-time firefighter, the chief said. "He did everything perfect, attended every meeting and drill, and every call that he could.
"He was just an all-around good kid," Connolly said. "Everybody liked him on the department. I know he'll be greatly missed."
ConVal Principal Brian Pickering said Saturday that counselors will be available at the school starting at 8 a.m. on Monday for any of Garabrant's friends who need help coping with his death. "We are deeply saddened by Brandon's passing and incredibly grateful for his service to our country," Pickering said.
Garabrant had worked at Touchstone Farm, a nonprofit educational and therapeutic riding organization in Temple. His friends there posted their own message of mourning yesterday:
"With deep sadness we have learned of the ultimate sacrifice USMC Lance Corporal Brandon Garabrant has made for our country. Our grief is palpable and we are honored to have worked by your side.
"All of our thoughts and prayers turn to his family; we hold you up for strength and in our hearts for warmth. 'It's so much darker when a light goes out than it would be if it had never shone.'"
Kate Williams, owner of Kate's Cuts in Peterborough, has known the Garabrant family for more than a decade. Brandon's death was all anyone could talk - and often cry - about at her salon Saturday.
Garabrant, she said, was "everything you want your boy to become."
She remembers he always had a "flat-top" haircut like his dad's when he was a kid, and he would offer to let new stylists practice the difficult cut on him. "He would even give hints to the stylist on how to make it easier," Williams said. "He just wanted to help others and make people safe and happy. The world has lost a real gem."
She last saw Garabrant two months ago when he was home on leave before deployment. "He came in to give me a hug goodbye."
Williams told him it was good he was going now, as the war is ending, and told him to come home soon. "That's the plan," he replied.
His death is all the more shocking because of the timing, she said. "It just makes you realize it's not over and that too many of our guys aren't coming home, and it's too sad," she said. "It breaks your heart."
Garabrant recently had shared his experiences in Afghanistan on Facebook, where family and friends sent back messages of encouragement and pride.
On April 4, as he was preparing to leave Camp Lejeune for Afghanistan, he wrote: "Going to do what we do best. Fighting for our country, our brothers to the left and right, our friends and families back home. So that you can have the right for freedom and to live the American dream without fear of anything. May God be with us on this journey. Guardian Angels be watching over us and protecting us.
"This is what I signed up for. Here comes a long journey into the unknown. I love all my family and friends."
The next day, he posted a photo of his newly shaved head - "cause it's tradition."
His mother wrote back with a passage from the Bible's book of Joshua: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go."
On April 16, Garabrant wrote that he was "loving life in Afghanistan so far ... I'm doing well and still going strong. Love you guys and thank ya'll for your support."
On April 28 came evidence that the war truly was winding down: "...as time goes on here, things are starting to get very rare and certain places are being shut down, if you would like to send me a care package or even a letter then please do so."
Just eight days before his death, he posted the forecast for "Camp Leatherneck," calling for daytime temperatures between 105 and 113.
"You would be freezing here, it's only 56 & raining," his mother wrote back.
And his father posted: "Drink plenty of water ... Love you buddy thanks for being there for all of us!"
Garabrant's final post was on June 15, congratulating girlfriend Ashley Gryval on her high school graduation. "Can't wait to come home and see all the pictures of it!" he wrote.
Late Friday night, after she learned of his death, Gryval posted her own final message to him: "You will always be in my heart boo."
That night, his mother also posted this tribute to her oldest child: "The high price of freedom is a cost paid by a brave few."
And a quote Garabrant posted in March was rendered even more poignant by his death: "Only two defining forces have offered to die for you, Jesus Christ and the American soldier. One died for your soul, the other for your freedom."
During the controversy over Garabrant's graduation apparel last year, Williams hung a sign of support in the window of her salon: "Brandon deserves to wear his uniform."
Yesterday, a new sign hung in her window: "Lance Corporal Brandon Garabrant RIP. You are a true hero! We love you & will miss you!"