Scott McLaughlin, National Guardsman

Last week, a sniper's bullet killed Army National Guard Spc. Scott McLaughlin while he was on patrol with his unit west of Baghdad. The 29-year-old Vermont native had been looking forward to returning home to work on the farmhouse he'd moved his family into last year. Steve Zind of Vermont Public Radio has this remembrance.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Last week Army National Guard Specialist Scott McLaughlin was killed by a sniper as he patrolled with his unit west of Baghdad. He was 29 years old. A Vermont native, McLaughlin had been looking forward to returning home to work on the farmhouse he'd moved his family into last year. Steve Zind of Vermont Public Radio has this remembrance.

STEVE ZIND reporting:

Last January, at the deployment ceremony for his unit, Scott McLaughlin stood in a circle of family and friends, as his pastor said a short prayer.

(Soundbite of ceremony)

Unidentified Pastor: And, Lord, may the days seem short until Scott's return. We ask this through Christ...

TYLER: Amen.

Unidentified Pastor: ...Amen.

Unidentified Woman #1: Amen! Yeah, Tyler.

ZIND: Then a few minutes before he said goodbye, McLaughlin reassured the well-wishers with a promise.

(Soundbite of ceremony)

Specialist SCOTT McLAUGHLIN (Army National Guard): When I come back, we'll all have to get together. We'll have a big--I got a bunch of land and stuff. Have a big party.

Unidentified Woman #2: All right. Awesome. Yes.

Spc. McLAUGHLIN: All right.

ZIND: Last Sunday there was a different kind of gathering for McLaughlin as the congregation of his church held a service to remember him. It began with music. McLaughlin's father, Kevin, sat bent over a guitar. His mother, Vicki(ph), joined a trio of singers.

(Soundbite of song)

Trio of Women: (Singing in unison) Let there be your name found in the desert place, when I walk through the wilderness. Let this be your name.

ZIND: After the service Kevin McLaughlin stood outside and recalled his son's love of hunting and the outdoors and the few chances he'd had to talk with him recently. A missed call four weeks ago remains on the answering machine. McLaughlin says his son talks in his message about being troubled by the suffering he saw in Iraq.

Mr. KEVIN McLAUGHLIN (Scott's Father): He's--the first thing he says, `I hate it! I hate it! I hate it! Oh, well, I gotta do it,' he says.

ZIND: Scott McLaughlin told his parents how his convoy passed children who were begging along the highway but couldn't stop because it was too dangerous.

Mr. McLAUGHLIN: The thing he hated the most, I think, was the little kids begging for water.

ZIND: McLaughlin was due to come home on leave in December and was anxious to start work on his house.

(Soundbite of gathering)

Ms. DEBBIE ERNO (Scott's Mother-in-Law): Come on in. Have a seat. How was church? Can I get you a cup of coffee?

ZIND: Debbie Erno is McLaughlin's mother-in-law. She greets the steady stream of people stopping by the farmhouse to offer condolences and intercepts calls and questions on behalf of her grieving daughter, Nicole. There's a freshly made pot of coffee on the counter, and a child's sippy cup floats in the sink. The refrigerator door is covered with photographs of McLaughlin with his wife and children, one-year-old Molly and six-year-old Tyler. The photos trace a young man's progression from a long-haired, bearded newlywed to a rail-thin soldier.

Ms. ERNO: He tried to put on weight, but he was tall, skinny, but he had the nicest smile, and his eyes would just twinkle with humor.

ZIND: Erno says the most difficult moment of the past few days came when her daughter told son Tyler what had happened to his father.

Ms. ERNO: So she took him aside alone, and we could hear him start crying. He knew.

ZIND: Erno says it's likely the house and land where Scott McLaughlin planned his welcome home party will be sold. It'll be too much to maintain for a widow and her two small children. For NPR News, I'm Steve Zind in Braintree, Vermont.

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