When Jeromy D. West was little, he used to tell his mother, Lisa West-Klopf, that when he grew up, he wanted to be an "army man," like his grandfather and great-grandfather.
Then, after the Sept. 11 attacks, when he was 14, he told her that if he had been old enough, he would have joined right then.
So when he came to her as high school graduation neared and asked her to sign the papers allowing him to join the Marine Corps at 17, she wasn't completely surprised. She eventually signed.
"I tried to convince him otherwise, but I knew he was going to go, either then or when he turned 18" three months later, West-Klopf said. "And I knew the journey was much better shared and spent together."
West, 20, a lance corporal from the Riverside County community of Aguanga, was killed by a sniper Nov. 25 in Iraq's Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, 3rd Marine Division, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii.
He had been in Iraq since September, after an earlier tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he guarded poll boxes during the elections there and felt he was part of history, his family said.
West tried to stay in close touch with his family from overseas and had managed to call home twice the week he died, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving. He called on Nov. 21, his mother's birthday, and again on Thanksgiving Day, when he caught most of his relatives at home. Ron Klopf, West's stepfather, said he told them that he had been slightly wounded the day before when the truck he was riding in came under fire and he was blown off, getting shrapnel and debris in one arm.
"He sounded really good on my birthday, but on Thanksgiving, he was pretty tired," his mother said. "You just know sometimes that they're going through things that are really difficult for them, and you could just tell he was having a tough time. We're so grateful he was able to call and that everybody spoke with him."
West-Klopf said she often told her son how much she missed his face. "So when he was in Afghanistan or in Hawaii, he'd take a picture -- just of his face -- and send it to my cellphone," she said.
He hadn't yet sent any from Iraq, she said, but a DVD sent by his unit of his Iraq memorial service included two photos that had likely come from his camera and had been intended for her.
"They were just of his face, close up," she said.
West was born in New Mexico and moved to the San Diego area with his family when he was 5. He lived in Chula Vista for several years, then moved to Temecula and, when he was in the eighth grade, to nearby Aguanga. He loved the small, rural community, where he played Pop Warner football and often went fishing at a nearby lake.
At Hamilton High School in Anza, West was a popular student who charmed the secretaries in the school office where he worked his senior year, was involved in student government and was a standout athlete. He played football, baseball and wrestled for the Hamilton Bobcats, and was a leader on and off the field. "He could be pretty feisty," said Michael Schroeder, Hamilton's head football coach. "He wasn't afraid to challenge authority -- or his peers -- when he believed in something with conviction, and he believed in a lot of things that way. That's what made him special."
He was close to and protective of his younger sister, Brandi, 18, and stepsister, Kellie, 22. Both said he was the one in the household who needed to know how everyone else was doing, and, regarding his sisters, always wanted to know who they were dating.
West met Kellie's boyfriend, a fellow Marine, on his last trip home before he was sent to Iraq. "He really wanted to make sure that everyone around him was happy," she said.
Before West was sent to Afghanistan, his mother asked him what he wanted if anything were to happen to him. He resisted at first, but finally told her that he would want something simple, without a lot of religious or military ceremony. And maybe something at the football field, a place he told her was his favorite place in the world and where his family, for years, had watched him play.
On a cold, clear night in early December, hundreds of people packed into the stands at the Hamilton High field for a memorial service for West.
As the memorial began, West's stepbrother, A.J., 20, who is serving with the Navy in Hawaii, carried West's cremated remains out of the football team room, up a set of steps and out onto the field, along the path West had traveled before each home game.
"He always said he just couldn't wait to go up those steps," his mother said. "We took him back to the place that he loved."
In addition to his mother, stepfather and siblings, West is survived by his father, Dave West of Chula Vista.