As a boy, Matthew P. Wallace built forts - in his front yard, down the street from his home in Lexington Park, at the beach, dreaming always of becoming a soldier, his family said.
He enlisted in the Army in February 2004 and was sent to Iraq in December.
On Friday, the 22-year-old corporal died of wounds he sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in Baghdad on July 16, the Defense Department announced.
His family flew to Germany to see him at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, after being notified his survival was unlikely. They found him unconscious, with bandages covering extensive burns, but told him they were proud of the man he'd become, and of his sacrifice, his mother, Mary Wallace said yesterday from the family home in the St. Mary's County town.
"Matthew chose to do what he did because he loved others more than he loved himself. It would have been much easier to do something else, but he chose not to," Mrs. Wallace said. "He loved the army, he loved what he learned and what he did, even though it was hard."
Corporal Wallace, who attended Great Mills High School and earned his General Educational Development diploma in 2001, worked for a time at a Sheetz convenience store before enlisting. He was assigned to the Army's 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.
In his letters and phone calls home from Iraq, Wallace expressed hope that what he and his fellow soldiers were doing in Iraq was helping the Iraqi people, his mother said.
He also wrote of the loneliness of war, the long hours, and his fears about being accepted back home.
"He was very deep, very reflective," his mother said. "He said that he felt like an old soul and had lived a long, big life."
Corporal Wallace's father, Keith Wallace, recalled yesterday his son's growing pains at home and how they eventually bonded over music and martial arts.
"We had some terrible struggles and there were times when I feared we would never connect again," he said. "It turned out the opposite, we became closer than a father and son could become."
He also became closer to his three sisters - Jessica, 24, Abigail, 19, and Micah, 16, all of St. Mary's County - and the younger one got a set of dog tags when her older brother went to Iraq, pledging to wear them until he returned.
With Abigail Wallace, who will attend Old Dominion University on a Navy scholarship, there was a good-natured Army-Navy rivalry, Mrs. Wallace said.
Corporal Wallace had a large circle of friends, but none closer than Matthew Korade. They surfed, skated and rocked out to heavy metal music, said Mr. Korade, of nearby Hollywood.
The friends had a little jingle - "We're Matthew and Matthew" - Mr. Korade said, and told each other everything. Recently, Mr. Korade bought a guitar and had packed it up to send to Iraq.
Corporal Wallace's survivors also include his grandmother, Mary Bopp of Portsmouth, Va.
Services were being planned for Thursday afternoon in the St. Mary's town of California.