He was a cross-country star in high school, an incurable optimist and a young man who wanted to be a Marine so badly that he signed up when he was 16, two years before they could take him in.
Now Michael W. Heede of Edgewood, a combat engineer on his third tour of duty overseas, has become one of the latest casualties in the increasingly deadly U.S.-led war in Afghanistan.
"I'm now a member of a club I never thought I'd join - mothers of young people killed in the war," his mother, Gloria Crothers, said Wednesday.
Heede, 22, was one of two Marine sergeants from Maryland whose remains were returned to Dover Air Force Base Wednesday, two days after both died in an IED explosion during fighting in Helmand province, according to the Department of Defense.
Staff Sgt. David S. Spicer, 33, of Olney, was killed alongside him.
The Pentagon announced the deaths in a statement Wednesday. A few hours later, at 1 p.m., their bodies arrived at the Delaware base, where a Marine Corps transfer team moved their flag-draped coffins from a 747 jet to a transport vehicle during a solemn military service known as a dignified transfer.
As 15 of Heede's family members and several of Spicer's loved ones looked on, a team of seven Marines and a representative of Dover Air Force Base held their salutes as the coffins passed, and the vehicle slowly drove away, its lights flashing.
The event lasted about 15 minutes, said Air Force Capt. Heather Garrett, a spokeswoman for mortuary affairs at the base.
"The Air Force and Marine Corps showed the utmost respect," Crothers said, "but nothing can help right now."
Perhaps she never envisioned such an end because her son, who spent most of his formative years in Delta, Pa., was such a gung-ho Marine. He told her at the start of his junior year at Kennard-Dale High School in Fawn Grove, Pa., where he was a cross-country star, that he wanted to sign up for a delayed-entry program that would commit him to a Marine career. He only needed his parents' signature.
She made him wait a year as a kind of test.
"As a senior, he still wanted it," Crothers said. "He never wavered. Michael was a Marine through and through."
Heede enlisted in September 2005, went to boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., and even wrote letters home praising the grueling training.
"I thought maybe they made him say those things," Crothers said.
According to a letter sent by a superior at Camp Pendleton, Calif., Heede distinguished himself with his intelligence, discipline, responsibility and positive attitude, attributes that earned him enough trust that he oversaw an armory at the base.
Heede, a veteran of the Iraq war, volunteered for deployment to Afghanistan, his mother said, because two buddies were going. He was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force. During his military career, he won the Combat Action Ribbon, the National Defense Service Medal and a Navy Unit Commendation Medal, among other honors.
Spicer, who lived much of his life in Ohio, was an explosive ordnance disposal technician assigned to 8th Engineer Support Battalion, Combat Logistics Regiment 2, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade. He joined the Marine Corps in 1994.
According to a statement from the Marine Corps, Spicer, who previously lived in Zanesfield, Ohio, and Charles County, is survived by a wife, 36, and a daughter, 1.
The two are the latest casualties in a month that has turned into one of the deadliest of the Afghan war. As of Wednesday, at least 46 international troops, including 24 Americans, had been killed in Afghanistan this month, matching the highest total for any full month so far.