Sgt. Ernest Bucklew, 33, was coming home from Iraq to bury his mother in Pennsylvania. Now it will be a double funeral.
First Lt. Brian Slavenas, 30, a helicopter pilot from Illinois, had decided against taking rest leave in the USA but was looking forward to the end of his tour so he could resume weight training.
Pfc. Karina Lau, 20, was heading to a surprise visit with her family in California, where she hoped someday to open a music store.
They were among the 16 U.S. soldiers killed when an Army helicopter was shot down Sunday near Fallujah in Iraq in the single deadliest attack on U.S. troops since the war began in March; 20 others were injured. The Chinook piloted by Slavenas was ferrying soldiers to Baghdad International Airport to begin two weeks of leave.
Around the nation, families who were waiting to greet their relatives were mourning their deaths instead. At Fort Carson south of Colorado Springs, support teams fanned out to notify families of the four dead and 13 injured from the base. Similar scenes played out at Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Sill in Oklahoma and other locations.
Bucklew, whose wife and two sons live at Fort Carson, was heading there before going to Pennsylvania for his mother's funeral.
"They say there's a reason for everything, but I just can't find a reason for this," said Bucklew's uncle, Jack Smith, 75, of Point Marion, Pa. "This country shouldn't be starting wars; we should be defending ourselves and others. I think all these boys should be sent home."
Slavenas had sent his family in Genoa, Ill., a letter that they received Monday. He wrote about the baseball playoffs and the Chicago Cubs. Slavenas, a strapping 6-5 and 230 pounds, was looking forward to "getting back here and getting back into shape," said his stepmother, Christi Slavenas. "He had competed in some weightlifting competitions, and he wanted to start lifting weights again."
Cecil Powell, mayor of Lawton-Fort Sill, home base for six of the soldiers who died, said, "That has got to have a greater depth and sense of hurting to know that they were in the helicopter, heading for (leave). And then death approached. That's tough stuff."
Kenworthy reported from Denver, Howlett from Chicago.
Contributing: Gregg Zoroya in McLean, Va., and the Associated Press.
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