Through the glass front door, Sandy Seidel could see the uniformed Army officer who had come to deliver the news, and she thought for a fleeting moment that maybe, if she didn't answer, the man would go away.
"But I knew what it was," she said, as the memory of that moment brought back tears yesterday. For the mother of a son serving in Iraq, "it's your nightmare."
Army 1st Lt. Robert Seidel III, 23, of Gettysburg, Pa., was killed while on patrol Thursday afternoon when his Humvee was struck by an explosive device, she and her husband, Robert Seidel Jr., said yesterday. They said the officer who came to their home said three other soldiers from their son's platoon and an Iraqi interpreter also were killed in the attack.
"You always know it's a possibility, but you hope it won't happen," Mr. Seidel said of the death of his son, who had last spoken with his parents on Mother's Day.
"He said he loved us, and he couldn't let Mother's Day go by without calling," Mrs. Seidel said of the 15-minute call. "He was ready to get back home, but he was upbeat and in good spirits."
The 2004 West Point graduate was a rifle platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion in the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. He was also an Army Ranger, qualified for air assaults.
Lieutenant Seidel- who had been in Iraq since August and had last visited his parents in February - was scheduled to return home in July, his mother said.
The Seidels said when they saw their son a few months ago, he seemed distracted. He explained that he was happy to see them, but also ready to rejoin the platoon of about 30 soldiers under his command, they recalled.
"His mind was over there," Mrs. Seidel said from their Gettysburg home. "He felt great responsibility for them. He said he couldn't feel at home until they all came home."
The Seidels said their son decided in the fifth grade that he wanted to attend West Point and make a career of the military. Lately he had talked about joining the Army Special Forces, his father said.
"He was in it for the long haul," Mr. Seidel said.
Mrs. Seidel said that as a young boy, her son had seen the Civil War miniseries, North and South, and was drawn to the famous generals who were depicted.
He attended Civil War re-enactments in Gettysburg and toyed with the idea of becoming a re-enactor one day, his mother said.
Lieutenant Seidel grew up in Emmitsburg in Frederick County and graduated in 2000 from Catoctin High School, where he earned mostly A's, his mother said. While there, he played football and baseball. At West Point, he joined the intramural wrestling team and won a medal in his weight class, she said.
He loved country music and ratty jeans, his mother said, chuckling, as she pictured her son in the beat-up John Deere hat that he was fond of wearing.
More recently he had developed an interest in NASCAR and ventured to Daytona, Fla., one year with friends to watch the races.
"He was a great kid," Mrs. Seidel said. "He loved the Lord. He loved his family. He loved his friends. And he loved his platoon. That was the most important thing for him."
His father added: "He believed in the mission in Iraq."
Stephen Seidel, 20, said he had braced himself for the possibility that his brother could die while serving in the war, but he hadn't imagined how he would feel if that day ever came.
"You work yourself up for this, but you don't expect it to happen," he said. "It rips your heart right out of your chest. I'm never going to see him again, and that's the hardest part of this."
He said his brother was a true-blue friend with an unfailing sense of humor and a knack for lightening serious moments.
"The first minute you met him, he'd have you laughing," the younger brother said. "Way back when we were really young, we'd go up to our grandma's attic and get into my uncle's old military uniforms. We'd go out into the woods and play Army. He loved that."