Fallen Soldier Was Anxious To Return To Afghanistan

Specialist Stephan Mace, 21, grew up in a small town in Virginia and was known as the ultimate prankster. Inspired by his grandfather, a former CIA agent, Mace joined the U.S. Army and was posted to Afghanistan earlier this year. He was killed in an attack this month.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

Army Specialist Stephan Mace, 21, grew up in Purceville, Virginia. He was posted to Afghanistan, where he was killed this month.

NPR's Habiba Nosheen has this profile.

HABIBA NOSHEEN: On a quiet street in Falls Church, Virginia, balloons that read Home of the Brave are proudly displayed on the front lawn of Kay Petro's house. Next to them, there's a sign.

Ms. KAY PETRO: In honor of Stephan, a brother, son, grandson, friend, American hero.

NOSHEEN: Petro was Stephan Mace's grandmother. Inside the house, she and her husband John sit at the kitchen table and tell stories about their grandson. Mace was the second of four boys and was known as the ultimate prankster. His grandma says he would often hide insects around her house.

Ms. PETRO: You could just count on him…

(Soundbite of laughter)

…to do something devilish when he was here.

NOSHEEN: Mace loved animals. When he was a teenager he got a change to go to South Africa to work on a safari. After two years in high school he dropped out and took his GED.

Mr. JOHN PETRO (Former CIA agent): And we knew he was rather bored with school and he wanted to get into the Army.

NOSHEEN: Inspired by his grandfather, who was a former CIA agent, Mace became a cavalry scout and was deployed to Afghanistan in April. Less than six months later, Mace was killed when his base was attacked.

Mr. PETRO: He was looking around and thinking about colleges. And then one Sunday morning you get a call, instead he's dead. It's the worst thing that could happen.

NOSHEEN: Stephan's family moved to West Virginia two years ago.

Mr. MATTHEW MACE: This is my brother's (unintelligible) room.

NOSHEEN: Matthew, who's Stephan's older brother, gives me a tour of his room. There's a large bed and a 62-inch TV. On the dresser, the various souvenirs from his safari trips.

Mr. MACE: I know his drawers are full of bullets.

NOSHEEN: Matthew says while on leave in August Stephan was anxious to get back to Afghanistan to be with his buddies. He felt guilty leaving them behind. Matthew shares Stephan's Facebook profile.

Mr. MACE: Every single picture you see in here, you know, he's either doing something goofy to make everyone laugh or he's just got a big smile on his face. That's who he was.

NOSHEEN: Matthew reads the last entry Stephan wrote three days before he died.

Mr. MACE: (Reading) September 30 at 6:03 a.m. It's a beautiful girl who can make you dizzy like you've been drinking Jack and Coke all morning.

That was the last thing he wrote.

NOSHEEN: In the living room, Stephan's mother Vanessa Adelson sits hugging her gray sweatshirt that reads Army Mom.

Ms. VANESSA ADELSON: He had lots of girls after him. We were afraid at his funeral that there were going to be cat fights there.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ADELSON: You know, the girls loved Stephan.

NOSHEEN: Adelson picks up a photo of Stephan with his girlfriend.

Ms. ADELSON: You know, most of us could live a ripe old age in our 90s and not have done as much. He lived. He lived.

NOSHEEN: His mother says she finds comfort in knowing he got to fall in love before he died.

Habiba Nosheen, NPR News.

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