He acknowledges that some of the information he hears about the war that contradicts his earlier convictions about it can leave him unsettled - if he lets it.

"I'm just a guy who watches TV and pays attention," says the fan of Fox News and CNN. "I think for us to go after Iraq, there had to be something there that we knew. It wasn't just like, 'Hey, we're going to go after Iraq now just to go after all these different countries.' There had to be a reason why. Maybe everything's not laid out on the table yet as to why. The president of the United States knows way more about what's going on than you and I."

Then an earnest young man who pieced together every detail about how his brother was killed, where the bullet entered and exited, how long he suffered, pauses for a moment. "I just wish I knew the truth," he says.

There were no weapons of mass destruction.

It is an easier way for Natalie Wilkins to express what she finds almost unbearable to say:

She believes her son died in a war that never should have been. In vain.

"There were no weapons of mass destruction," she says, her fragile composure crumbling whenever she utters the words. "We shouldn't be there."

She was never convinced that the war was necessary, even at the start, and begged her son not to go. She did everything but get down on her hands and knees.

Although his own unit had been sent to Indiana for training and then pulled back a year earlier - rendering 1st Lieutenant Wilkins off the hook, at least for the time being - he volunteered to be transferred to an engineering unit based in Chillicothe, a small town south of Columbus, that was heading to Iraq last February and needed officers.

With a week's notice, he prepared a loose-leaf binder for his family with all of his affairs meticulously in order, including instructions about the Psalms and hymns he wanted at his funeral, notes about his cat, an obituary and a goodbye.

And then the Ohio National Guardsman went off to war convinced, if not of the mission, then of his duty to go where he was needed.

Lorin Lacie Wilkins, 36, one of Chuck's two sisters who is now living in her brother's home on Morality Drive in Columbus and caring for his cat, says her brother "didn't agree with the war." In fact, he told some of his law school buddies he thought it was probably about oil. But, Lorin says, once her brother was over there, he was glad to be helping rebuild the country, especially for the children. He had asked his family to include school supplies and socks for the Iraqi children the next time they sent him a package.

"I hope I can be just half the person he was," says Lorin, who works for the clerk of courts in Columbus.

After graduating from a Catholic high school in 1984, the year his parents divorced, Chuck followed in the path of two of his uncles and joined the Air Force. Once out of the service, he joined the Ohio National Guard, wanting to become an officer, while he earned a degree in economics at Ohio State University.

He'd been pursuing a law degree at Capital University and working full time for the Federal Highway Administration when he offered his services to the 216th Engineering Battalion that was heading to Iraq to build bridges, roads and bunkers. On Aug. 20, he and another Ohio guardsman, Pfc. Ryan Martin, 22, were killed when a roadside explosive hit their Humvee.

"I hurt," his mother says three weeks later, as neighbors bring in food she has no appetite to eat. "I hurt."

Their grief tinged with bitterness, Natalie and her daughter feel betrayed by the president and suspicious about the real reasons he sent U.S. troops into Iraq.

Iraq did not appear to be the "imminent threat" the administration warned it was. And if the troops are there to bring a better life to the Iraqi people, why, the Wilkinses ask, does it seem like the region is more rife with terrorism and violence than it was before?

Natalie also asks this: "What happened to looking for Osama bin Laden?"

"You want to believe in your leaders. You want to have faith and think that they're doing the right thing," she says. "But it was supposed to be about Osama bin Laden. Now we're going after Saddam Hussein? It looked to me like Bush was picking up a battle where his father left off."