Before Blue Rowe went overseas, he always made sure everything was squared away at home.
Just two days before he left for Afghanistan last August, the Army sergeant paid all the bills and helped his wife, Cindy, and 8-year-old son Andrew settle into a house in Whittier.
"He always made sure me and Andrew were taken care of all the time," said his wife, 37. "I never had to worry about him because he was so careful and so cautious."
He was deployed to Afghanistan with the Army Reserve's 426th Civil Affairs Battalion in Upland. He had one more mission in the eastern part of that country before he would meet his family in Washington, D.C., for a sightseeing trip.
But on May 26, just four days after his 33rd birthday, a suicide bomber in an explosives-rigged car rammed into his convoy. He was one of three U.S. soldiers and three civilians killed in the attack.
"I was giving Andrew a bath, the doorbell rang, and I looked out the window and there were two soldiers," Cindy Rowe said. "I was thinking, 'This is not happening. It's just a dream.' I called my mom and my dad and told them 'the soldiers are here,' and they knew exactly what I meant."
Blue Rowe was born in Oklahoma and raised in northwestern Arkansas on 5 1/2 acres with chickens and a few goats.
With an athletic, 6-foot, 2-inch frame and clean-cut brown hair and hazel eyes, Rowe had a pronounced accent and joked he was like the title character from the movie "Joe Dirt." But Rowe's friends and family said he was the quintessential Southern gentleman, pulling out chairs for his wife and insisting on paying for everything.
"He is dependable, funny and a bad liar," said his mother Glenda Rowe, who remembered being amused and unconvinced when as a teenager he told her he and his friends had run out of gas every time he came home late.
He was also a jokester. As a teenager, he went cow-tipping and swam in a freezing river in March -- for fun.
He joined the Army in 1994, just a week after graduating from Siloam Springs High School in northwestern Arkansas, where he ran track and played football.
"If he set his mind to do something, he just did it," said his mother. "He missed home, but he loved the military."
His 15 years in the Army, first as a military police officer and most recently as a paratrooper, took him to places he had scarcely dreamed of as a boy: Korea, Germany, Croatia, Iraq.
Rowe met his wife when they were serving together in Croatia in 1996. She was his platoon's medic and while they were playing a game of Spades, he asked her to dinner and drank a soda while she ate. They got along so well they started talking every day.
"He was my best friend," she said. "We both enjoyed the Army, we knew all the acronyms and we just had fun together. We were just able to connect just like that."
They married three years later in her parents' backyard in Pico Rivera.
He had a sense of adventure he liked to share with his wife and son, and he would take them on surprise trips.
"We wouldn't know where we were going until we showed up at the zoo or Disneyland or SeaWorld," said Cindy Rowe, now a medical support assistant at the VA Long Beach Medical Center.
He went to school, earning an associate's degree in liberal arts from Rio Hondo College, in hopes that his son would follow in his footsteps.
"He wanted to encourage his son to make something of himself. He wanted to be a good example," said Jennifer Moten, 30, a childhood friend who was like a sister to him.
His life was not without pain: His parents divorced when he was 5 and two of his sisters died in a car accident in 2001 at the ages of 30 and 31.
Friends and family held a memorial for him in Siloam Springs, Ark., and he was buried at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier. On his headstone is an image of a parachute and the team logo of his beloved University of Arkansas Razorbacks.
Moten said he would have had no regrets about dying honorably, in service for his country.
"As much as it hurts, I am just incredibly proud of him," she said. "He was just so good at what he did."