Kelsey Johnson remembered that her husband, Marine Cpl. Stephen P. Johnson, 24, told her that he had "a really bad feeling" about an upcoming mission. Johnson, of Yreka, was among 31 troops killed when their helicopter crashed in the Iraqi desert.
"I dropped down on the ground and started screaming," she said. She was 19 when her husband was killed.
Army Pvt. Walter Freeman Jr. of Lancaster put a picture of Jesus on his MySpace.com page and asked people to pray for him.
His sister, Donna Brown, recounted one of the last things he told her: "If you never believed in God, wait until you come to Iraq. You will."
Freeman, 20, was killed by a roadside bomb.
Many soldiers and Marines left instructions for their funerals. Some wanted bagpipes. One requested, and got, "Stairway to Heaven."
Army Spc. Daniel F. Reyes told his mother that if he died, he wanted to be buried next to his brother, Roberto Esparza, who was 21 when he was killed in a bike accident in San Diego.
Reyes was survived by his wife, Rebekah, 23, and year-old son, Daniel Fernando. "He was always thinking of us," she said. "He called me every morning in Iraq."
Like many of those killed, the severity of Reyes' wounds from an explosion precluded an open-casket service. Mortuary affairs personnel in the war zones have developed a word for such cases: unviewable.
To keep his family from worrying, Marine Lance Cpl. Salvador Guerrero, 21, told them that he was training in Japan. They learned the truth when three Marines came to the family home in Whittier to inform them that he had been killed west of Baghdad.
Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Probst, 26, of Irvine asked his family to send him a cross to add to his dog tags for luck. Three days after it arrived, he was killed outside Abu Ghraib.
Among the more common themes in the obituaries is that the deceased was known for his sense of humor. "Wherever he was, he was always trying to make somebody laugh," said Robin Butterfield of Clovis, whose son, Lance Cpl. Tony Butterfield, 19, was killed in Iraq with three other Marines.
"He was just a happy-go-lucky kid who had big dreams in a neighborhood that's economically depressed," a school principal said of Army Pfc. Ramon A. Villatoro Jr., 19, of Bakersfield, who died when a bomb exploded near his Bradley fighting vehicle in Baghdad.
Families are often left with fragmentary facts that add to their pain. He was killed just days before he would have come home. And echoing a theme repeated in many obituaries, he volunteered for duty in Iraq because he didn't want to let down the guys in his outfit.
Army Sgt. Andres J. Contreras, 23, of Huntington Park changed seats with a soldier while patrolling Baghdad in a Humvee. Contreras, who wanted to become a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy, was killed by a roadside bomb. The other soldier survived.
Death's timing can be particularly cruel.
Rhona Kiser of Redding learned of the death of her son, Army National Guard Sgt. Timothy Kiser, the same day his Mother's Day card arrived. Kiser, 37, was killed in Kirkuk.
The family of Army Staff Sgt. Jason Paton, 25, of Poway learned of his death on the day that his wedding invitations arrived. His second tour in Iraq had been extended as part of the "surge." He was killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash.
"He was always trying to make life a little bit easier for everybody else," said his stepfather, Jim Valenzuela -- a comment that could apply to all 492, all of whom were volunteers in their nation's service.