Near the end, it was clear to those who knew Walter Freeman Jr. how worried he was in Iraq. Again and again, in telephone calls back home, the 20-year-old soldier from Lancaster spoke of how dangerous that country had become. He put a picture of Jesus on his MySpace.com page and asked that people pray for him.
One of the last things he said to his foster sister, Donna Brown, was this: “If you never believed in God, wait until you come to Iraq. You will.”
On April 4, the Army private first class was one of two soldiers killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in Baghdad.
He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, Colo. He was posthumously promoted to specialist.
Estranged from his biological parents, Freeman came to live in the Lancaster home of his foster mother, Gloria Ricketts, when he was 8 years old.
He called Ricketts “Grandma” among friends but “Mom” in her company.
Her daughter, Brown, regarded him as a brother, as did Ricketts’ other foster children.
He grew up playing basketball and football in the cul-de-sac.
He worked at Wal-Mart and Magic Mountain, volunteered at the county hospital, showed promise as an artist and played drums for the Antelope Valley High School band.
“He was just a gentle soul,” said choral director John Crocker.
Teachers and friends remembered Freeman as reliable, cheerful and well-liked.
Carol Selmser, whose son grew up with Freeman in the same neighborhood of Lancaster, sometimes spotted him walking to school in the morning. She would pick him up and drive him.
One morning, she asked him what he planned to do with his life.
He told her that joining the Army was the only way he could afford a college education.
“I told him I thought it was a great idea,” Selmser said. That was before the Iraq war, she added, sighing painfully.
“He was one of the really good kids,” she said. “He was just as nice as could be, polite and trying to make it.”
Freeman joined the Army soon after graduating from Antelope Valley High in 2004.
Among his last words were: “Mom, I love you, pray for me.”
His foster sister said he was just three weeks from returning home on vacation. He planned to visit her in Santa Monica.
“He could have been on the streets, just wasting his life,” Brown said. “He came from an extremely broken place and became somebody.”
She remembered Christmas with Freeman two years ago, in which the topic “What are you grateful for?” came up.
“He said he was grateful to have a family,” Brown said.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Total U.S. deaths*:
* In and around Iraq**: 3,311
* In and around Afghanistan***: 316
* Other locations***: 61
Source: Department of Defense* Includes military and Department of Defense-employed civilian personnel killed in action and in nonhostile circumstances
**As of Friday
***As of April 14