The adoptive father of James Plonsky, a 22-year-old Navy gunner's mate who was among those killed in the attack on the U.S. Navy frigate Stark, said his son was "a professional who was there to obey orders and protect the flag--take it from there."
Albert Plonsky, 64, of Cathedral City, just east of Palm Springs, was notified of his son's death Monday night.
The elder Plonsky, a former Navy chief yeoman who retired in 1962 after 20 years in the service, said he was "not about to second-guess" the motives behind the incident or the frigate's apparent lack of response to the attack.
In the Van Nuys neighborhood where Plonsky grew up, he was described as a "very quiet, very shy" boy with a mechanical knack and a religious streak who gained maturity and confidence from the Navy, in which he intended to make a career.
In recent years, Plonsky, an orphan, lived with John and Lois Jackson and their son Brad, the Jackson family said. John Jackson is a truck driver for an Inglewood meatpacking company and his wife is a waitress at a Dupar's restaurant.
"He was like our own son," John Jackson said.
Lois Jackson said the couple heard the news of Plonsky's death on the radio. "I just can't believe he's not going to be coming home again," she said, breaking into tears.
Brad Jackson said Plonsky attended Gault Elementary School with him and then Birmingham High School, dropping out as a sophomore in 1981 to take a television repair course at the West Valley Occupational Center.
In his late teens, Plonsky became interested in Mormonism and joined the church, living for a while with a group of Mormon youths his age, said John Patton, 25, a neighborhood friend who grew up with Plonsky.
He said Plonsky loved the Navy and intended to make a career in the service.
The father of another crew member from California reacted bitterly to the Iraqi government's contention that the attack on the Stark was a mistake.
Gary Clinefelter, whose son, Brian M. Clinefelter, 19, had been a boatswain's mate on the ship, said, "They can apologize all they want to, but they can't replace my son."
In a telephone interview, Clinefelter, a 43-year-old Navy senior chief quartermaster stationed in Bangor, Wash., said his son, who is listed as missing and presumed dead, wrote in a letter last month that "he felt attached to a very good ship with a good crew . . . and sounded quite happy."
Brian Clinefelter's mother, Sandra Clinefelter of Barstow, added: "I thought that by being out in the water, he would be all right. I thought it was safer than being on land over there."
Now, she said, fighting back tears in a telephone interview, "I'm just waiting and praying for word of my son . . . and all the others who are missing."
The sailor's mother, an accounting technician at the Barstow Marine Corps Logistics Base, said: "The last time I heard from him, he called me from Bahrain. We talked about when he was coming home again and getting together. . . . That would have been in Florida in August."
"Everyone liked Brian--he was so full of life, wrestled and played football," said family friend Daron Banks, 18, of Barstow, who attended Barstow High School with Clinefelter.
Clinefelter, while on leave in April, confided that he "didn't like the thought of being in that area where so many things were happening," according to Banks.
"He was a little scared," Banks said, adding that in a letter received two weeks ago, Clinefelter said "it was kind of shaky over there, and he really didn't like it."
Now, "A lot of my friends are praying for him," Banks said.