THE BLOG
12/31/2006 08:33 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Dying in Iraq: An American Soldier Comes Home

This morning I opened the paper to find an obituary of another young man killed in Iraq. His name was Nicholas P. Steinbacher. Nicholas was killed by a roadside bomb while on night patrol in Baghdad Dec. 10. Two days after his 22nd birthday. He'd been in Iraq just two months.

I did not know Nicholas P. Steinbacher, but because he was local and my son and daughter played soccer on the same rutted high-school field where Nicholas played center for the varsity football team the Falcons, his death felt personal to me. He also looked a bit like one of my nephews. Dark sandy hair, big grin, handsome. In the picture they ran in the paper he was wearing a tuxedo. I think that's the first time I've seen an obit of an American soldier killed in Iraq where they didn't use one of those grim military photos. Nicholas looks like a young groom on his wedding day.

Nicholas was from a pretty bedroom community called La Crescenta that sits at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains near LA. Sometimes from my porch I can see snow on the San Gabriels. La Crescenta is the kind of community where the schools are good, crime is low, and people get their news from the local weekly rather than the Los Angeles Times. It's also where SUVs with Bush-Cheney stickers abound and fervor for high-school sports borders on the religious.

Nicholas's father Paul and his older brother Dan played football at Crescenta Valley too and they all had the same number--51. In the obit Nicholas's coach was quoted saying what a "fun-loving kid" Nicholas was. Nicholas's father was quoted saying that his son had joined the Army in 2004 after two years at a community college because he "did not like injustices." Nicholas's brother Dan was quoted saying that Nicholas "was proud to be going" to Iraq.

Nicholas's mother Carolyn was not quoted.

According to the website icasualties.org, Nicholas was the 305th Californian to die in Iraq. A few hours ago he became part of another long-dreaded benchmark in the war: the 3000 U.S. troops dead in Iraq.

A few days before Christmas, thousands of people in La Crescenta lined Foothill Boulevard as Nicholas's flag-draped casket rolled by, cradled in a black hearse.

A photo of his final journey home appeared in the paper too. Right next to the one of him in a tux.