California Town Mourns Marine's Death

Marine Lance Cpl. Brandon Christopher Dewey is the fifth serviceman from the small town of Tracy, Calif., to die in Iraq. A car bomber killed Dewey, 20, in Haqlaniyah, just north of Baghdad. Earlier this week, he was buried with honors in his hometown.

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The small town of Tracy in California's central valley has been hit hard by the War in Iraq. Tracy is home to just 75,000 people, and it's lost five of its young men in the war. The latest, Marine Lance Corporal Brandon Christopher Dewey. He was 20 years old and was killed by a car bomber north of Baghdad. He was recently buried with honors in his hometown. Nancy Mullane reports.

NANCY MULLANE reporting:

Brandon Dewey died fighting in Iraq as a U.S. Marine, yet his flag-covered casket was carried into St. Paul's Lutheran Church by four police officers. Dewey's father was a police officer and it was Dewey's dream to also enter the police academy in the neighboring town of Union City. Police Chief Randy Ulibarri.

RANDY ULIBARRI (Police Chief Union City): I hereby appoint Brandon Dewey an honorary police office with the Union City Police Department and may Brandon continue to rest in peace knowing that his dream of becoming a police officer after he came home has come true.

MULLANE: Dewey earned a Purple Heart for shrapnel wounds he received on his first mission to Iraq in 2004. His mother, Julia Conover, says she thought that meant he wouldn't be injured again on his second tour. But on the night of January 20th an unmarked white van pulled up to her house.

JULIA CONOVER (Mother of Brandon Dewey): And I saw the two Marines get out. He walked across the street and he goes, are you Julia Conover? I just said, tell me how bad, tell me how bad it is. And they said, come in the house. And they, and I knew when they wouldn't talk to me out front.

MULLANE: Sitting in her living room filled with huge bouquets of red roses and white lilies, she stares down at the photos of her son. She touches the edges of one, picks it up, smiles. In this one he's a sleeping toddler. His arm wrapped around his little sister.

Ms. CONOVER: I was trying to write a letter to him last night so I was thinking about what kind of person he was. And when he was little he was so full of energy and a zest for life. It was contagious.

MULLANE: In middle school she says he collected Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, wrote sci-fi adventures novels, and joined the local Boy Scout Troop 505. The troop's motto, Training a Few Good Men. And at the age of 17 Dewey enlisted in the Marines.

Ms. CONOVER: When he would come home on leave and he'd be so stiff and proper and he'd be going out the door to meet his friends and, you know, he'd turn back and say you know I love you Mom, and give me a hug and then he was my little boy.

MULLANE: As he grew up, Julia Conover says her son became a great comic. He built up a repertoire of impressions. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jim Carey and a favorite of family and friends, Austin Powers. But while he liked to make people laugh, his stepfather, Scott Conover, says, he had a serious side and was anxious to get married and have kids.

SCOTT CONOVER (Stepfather of Brandon Dewey): When he was going to come back this last time I was going to sit him down and say listen, you're only 20, relax, let things unfold, don't rush things.

MULLANE: You've got your whole life ahead of you to get married, Conover planned to tell his stepson. He never got that opportunity. Brandon Christopher Dewey was buried in the town cemetery. In his casket his mother placed a box of Nestlé's Quik, chocolate flavored, a carton of cigarettes and a bottle of Jack Daniels. For NPR News, I'm Nancy Mullane.

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