Marine Sensed That Death Was Near

After a month in Iraq, Marine Michael L. Ford died when his tank hit an improvised exploding device. Back home in New Bedford, Mass., his fiancee recalls an e-mail from Ford carrying such forboding that she did not know how to reply.

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Lance Corporal Michael Ford was the third soldier from Southeastern Massachusetts to die last month in Iraq. He'd been in that country only 28 days when his tank rolled over a roadside bomb. Lance Corporal Ford was 19 years old. His family, girlfriend and friends buried him on Tuesday. Nancy Cook from member station WCAI reports.

Ms. NANCY COOK (Reporter, WCAI): Michael Ford sent one letter home during his month in Iraq. Written on a white-lined piece of paper the letter simply said, hi. His aunt, Mary Braden(ph), calls this an example of Michael's playfulness.

Ms. MARY BRADEN (Aunt): Oh, he loved to tease me because, you see, I'm the short one in the family. He'd often drape his arm around my shoulder and say, Auntie, you're so short. And that's what I'm going to remember, that little grin and that twinkle he'd get in his eye just before he'd teased me about being so short.

Ms. COOK: In the days leading up to his funeral, Ford's extended family gathered around the kitchen table and told stories. They spoke about his high school degree in culinary arts and his involvement with the Church of Latter-Day Saints. His aunt, Katherine Dixon(ph), pulled out photographs of Ford dressed in fatigues at boot camp.

Ms. KATHERINE DIXON (Aunt): They're pictures of myself, my sister and Michael in front of the Marine emblem. In this picture, it looks like Michael has wings, and those were the last pictures that were taken with family members.

Ms. COOK: Despite his sense of humor, family and friends say Michael's short life was difficult. His mother died in 2002 of a rare form of muscular dystrophy. His father developed back problems and went on disability. His childhood friend, Javeta Chote(ph), says Ford joined the Marines just before his high school graduation.

Ms. JAVETA CHOTE (Friend): He decided he needed to get away, so he joined the military.

Ms. COOK: At Christmas-time, he started to date a 20-year-old family friend named Caitlyn Owen(ph). Sometimes he'd visit her at the local mall where she worked at a portrait studio. Sitting outside the Ford's apartment on a sunny spring day, Owen talked about their plans to marry.

Ms. CAITLYN OWEN (Girlfriend): About two weeks in, he was like, So I found the ring that I wanted to buy you, and I was like, Okay, that's cool, and he was like, So when I get home from, in November, will you marry me? And I said yes.

Ms. COOK: Even though they'd only dated a few months, they planned their life together. Ford wanted to receive a free education through the military and then work as a police officer, but two days before he died, Owen received a worrisome email.

Ms. OWEN: (Reading email) Hi. Something happened here that made me realize that I need to tell you something in case it really happens. What I need to say is that I miss you, I love you and I think about you every day. I'm only saying this because I had a near-death incident here and it made me realize I need to tell you that. I don't know what to do.

And that's it. I never got to reply.

Ms. COOK: Owen never responded to Ford because she says she didn't know what to write. She feared her message wouldn't be enough to soothe him. He sent his note at 5:30 in the morning on Monday, April 24 and was killed two days later. For NPR News, I'm Nancy Cook in Providence, Rhode Island.

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