RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Residents of a small town in western Wisconsin are mourning the death of National Guard Specialist Charles Kaufman. He was 20 years old when he was killed on the road between Baghdad and Tikrit earlier this week. A car bomb exploded near his Humvee. From Wisconsin Public Radio, Gil Halsted has this profile.
GIL HALSTED reporting:
Charles Kaufman loved to hunt in the county forests surrounding his hometown of Fairchild, population 559. He grew up as part of a large extended family--aunts, uncles and cousins. Half a dozen Kaufman families all live within 10 miles of each other in this area. His aunt and uncle, Gary and Tammy Kaufman, live on the edge of town in a house bordered by county forest. Looking out their front window through a clearing in the birch and pine trees, you can see cows grazing in their neighbor's field across the road. Tammy Kaufman says she'll miss her nephew's smile.
Ms. TAMMY KAUFMAN: It's definitely his sense of humor and that smile. He'd come in and he'd start telling you some story and you'd look at him and you'd think `Is he lying to me and just pulling my chain or did it really happen or'--you could never tell.
HALSTED: Sitting at the dining room table with two huge antlered deer heads hanging on the wall above him, Charles Kaufman's uncle, Eric Frazee, says the two of them often hunted together. And when he wasn't hunting deer, Charles would go out after pheasant, turkey or coyote.
Mr. ERIC FRAZEE: You know, if you wanted to go pheasant hunting, he had the shotgun there in the trunk. If you wanted to go bow hunting, he had the bow there. That's what he was made for, was hunting.
HALSTED: It was hunting that almost kept Charles from going to Iraq. He joined the National Guard partly to stay closer to his cousin, Kelly Kaufman, who'd joined right after 9/11. The two were born just weeks apart and were like brothers. But just a month before the unit was deployed, Charles fell out of a tree stand, breaking three ribs and puncturing his lung. His uncle, Ken Kaufman, runs the Kaufman Cafe in Fairchild, where Charles worked during many of his high school summers. Ken says despite his accident, Charles was determined to go.
Mr. KEN KAUFMAN: He looked at me and he says, `Ken, I gotta catch up with the rest of them guys. Them are all my buddies, you know? I didn't go through training for nothing, you know? I gotta catch up with them.' He said, `They're expecting me.' He says, `And Kelly's there, too.' `I gotta get there,' he says. He said, `I'm not letting them guys down.'
HALSTED: One of Kaufman's best friends, Derrick Vold(ph), understands that sense of loyalty. But sorrow at the loss of his friend shows in his intense hazel-colored eyes as he stands in the parking lot of the local Ford dealership where he's renting a van. Vold is wearing a sleeveless black T-shirt, revealing a fresh tattoo on his right forearm. It's Charles Kaufman's name, rank and serial number.
Mr. DERRICK VOLD: He had no problem going. He told me he wasn't nervous, but you could tell he was nervous, but he wanted to go. He wanted to go and help people and he said there was no way he was gonna leave Kelly there alone.
HALSTED: Charles Kaufman was named after his grandfather, who died last week. Now he'll be buried near him, in the same hilltop graveyard overlooking the fields and forests where he spent so much time. For NPR News, I'm Gil Halsted.
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