In civilian life, Michael Ottolini loved driving big Peterbilt trucks and hauling hay.
But the Sebastopol, Calif., truck driver was happiest, relatives said, when he was called up for active duty with the California Army National Guard.
Ottolini, 45, a married father of two grown children, was killed Wednesday when the military truck he was driving was struck by a roadside bomb near Balad, Iraq, 50 miles northwest of Baghdad. He is the ninth, and oldest, California Guardsman killed in the Iraq war.
Only two other states, Illinois and Arkansas, have lost more National Guard soldiers in the war, each with 10 deaths.
"Since he was a little boy," said his father, Daniel, "Mike wanted to follow me into the military." Daniel Ottolini, 78, fought in World War II, landing at Omaha Beach in France and marching to the outskirts of Berlin.
After the war, the son of Italian immigrants joined the National Guard, retiring with 33 years of service.
Michael Ottolini enlisted in the Guard when he was 17, and put in 28 years before he was killed in Iraq.
Left unrealized was his dream of achieving his father's rank as first sergeant, the top noncommissioned officer in the 579th Engineer Battalion, based in Santa Rosa.
"When he left for Iraq, he said he would be back soon," his father said. "Unfortunately, he didn't make it." Daniel Ottolini had five sons who served in the military. Michael was the first to die in combat.
In a ceremony Friday at the National Guard armory in Santa Rosa, Michael Ottolini was promoted posthumously to sergeant first class.
He is survived by his wife, Sharon; a son, Darryl, 28; and a daughter, Stephanie Coleman, 29.