ALEX COHEN, host:
From NPR News, it's Day to Day. I'm Alex Cohen. Iraq's monthly death toll fell in January to its lowest since the U.S.-led invasion began. Still, more than 4200 U.S. soldiers have died there. One of them was Private First Class Jonathan Roberge. He was 22 years old when he was killed last week in Mosul. Before enlisting, the Leominster, Massachusetts, native worked as a mechanic at a local Ford dealership. Many of the men he worked with are military veterans. From member station WBUR in Boston, Meghna Chakrabarti has more.
(Soundbite of garage)
MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: To the guys in the service shop at Gervais Ford, Jonathan Roberge was simply Johnny.
Mr. MIKE OUELLETTE (Garage Manager, Gervais Ford, Ayer, Massachusetts): Great smile. Big, big smile. Johnny had a big smile.
CHAKRABARTI: Mike Ouellette was Roberge's manager.
Mr. OUELLETTE: I know when he told us all he was thinking about going in the service, we were all concerned, but it's something he really wanted to do and he was looking forward to it.
CHAKRABARTI: Ouellette says he understood. His own son served in Afghanistan. In fact, of the dozen guys in the shop, half are former enlisted men from every branch of the military, and they're close, like family. Roberge impressed every one of them.
Mr. MARK THEIBAULT: He was proud to serve his country, and I'm glad he did.
CHAKRABARTI: Mark Theibault says Roberge would be up to his elbows in engine parts when they talked about Theibault's time in the Marines.
Mr. THEIBAULT: You know, I told him it had its ups and its downs, you know, and it's a scary time right now, but that didn't bother him.
CHAKRABARTI: Roberge was a quick learner. For his high-school project, he built a replica V8 engine for a '69 Chevy Camaro. Lou Cummings says he wasn't surprised when a young man that capable and restless decided to join the Army.
Mr. LOU CUMMINGS: And he loved basic training. He loved his extra training. He loved being in the Army. He loved driving the tanks. He was just having a good time.
CHAKRABARTI: Roberge enlisted in January 2008. His first deployment was last December to Mosul, and there last week, he was on patrol driving a Humvee, when a suicide car bomber detonated on the road beside it.
Mr. DAVE COULIN: It was very devastating to hear it, I mean, you know, so young.
CHAKRABARTI: Dave Coulin helped Roberge get the job at the dealership. Coulin says back in November, when Roberge was on leave, he remembers how his friend walked into the garage, wearing his uniform, filled with passion and purpose.
Mr. COULIN: Whatever void there was, he was complete. He was just so enthused about it. I was just so happy for him, you know, until now. I mean, if I knew now, you know, I would have never suggested it, but...
(Soundbite of sigh)
CHAKRABARTI: Which is why, along with the pride, there's a heavy sadness at the Gervais dealership. Mechanic Javier Nevis comes as close as anyone to saying why.
Mr. JAVIER NEVIS: All of our kids is going, and for nothing. We're fixing nothing.
(Crying) And it's hard. And that kid, he was a very lovely guy. It's hard to say.
CHAKRABARTI: And that's the hardest part, Nevis says, because when Johnny died, they didn't just lose a member of the family; Nevis says they lost the potential Private First Class Jonathan Roberge was discovering within himself. For NPR News, I'm Meghna Chakrabarti.
(Soundbite of music)
COHEN: Stay with us. NPR's Day to Day continues.
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