A 23-year-old Army infantryman from the Eastern Shore - the father of two young children he last saw at Christmas - was killed Sunday by a roadside bomb that exploded near the Humvee vehicle he was riding in while on patrol with the 10th Mountain Division in Iraq.
Family members described Specialist Tommy Lee Latham as an enthusiastic recruit who declared his determination to join the military after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, which deeply affected him and others in his 2002 graduating class at Wicomico High School in nearby Salisbury.
His wife, Rachel Guy-Latham, 22, said the couple met when they were seventh-graders at Wicomico Middle School but did not begin dating until 2004.
"Tommy Lee joined the Army right after we graduated," his wife said yesterday. "He said he was very angry at what happened and at the people who had done it. He was set on defending the country."
Specialist Latham grew up in this middle-class town that sits astride the Maryland-Delaware border just north of Salisbury, not far from the two-story house where his wife and her sister and two brothers grew up. Specialist Latham's relatives moved to North Carolina about two years ago. They were staying yesterday with relatives in the Salisbury area.
His wife was informed of Specialist Latham's death Sunday evening, said his mother-in-law, Fay Guy. By yesterday, the house was filled with flower arrangements sent by family and friends.
"The real tragedy of this is that his two children will have to grow up without their father," the mother-in-law said. "He couldn't have been a better father to those children. He was all about those two babies."
Yesterday, Ariel Guy-Latham, 21 months, and her brother, 5-year-old Caleb, who is Specialist Latham's stepson, occupied themselves with toys, occasionally showing off for reporters who had come to their grandmother's house.
Mail carrier Margie Blanchfield didn't hear the bad news until yesterday as she was making her rounds.
"I've known the family for years, so this is as close as [the Iraq war] has come to me," Ms. Blanchfield said. "They're such a tight-knit family; it must be horrendous for them."
Specialist Latham, who had served one tour of duty in Afghanistan, was due to return home from Iraq in August, a year after arriving.
The couple would have celebrated their second wedding anniversary April 16.
The family, which had plans to take the children to Disney World and Sea World, will go on the Florida vacation without Specialist Latham because he would have wanted it that way, his wife said.
"I'm absolutely sure he would have wanted us to go ahead with the trip," she said. "Caleb has been waiting for it."
No funeral arrangements have been made, but the service will be held at Emmanuel Wesleyan Church in Salisbury, where the couple were married.
Their pastor, the Rev. Mark Bunting, remembered Specialist Latham as a devoted churchgoer who participated in church dramas and plays.
"Tommy was a jokester in high school, but when he came home from boot camp, he was a man," Mr. Bunting said. "He was very proud to have achieved that."