Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

A soldier is all that Army Sgt. Lawrance James Carter wanted to be while growing up in Upland. It was a family tradition. His mother, father, uncle and grandfather had all been Marines. His stepfather was an Army Green Beret, and his brother is in the Army.

When Carter enlisted in June 2001, he asked the Army to train him for combat. It was like anything important to him, family and friends said: He did it full-tilt.

He didn’t just buy a car; he tricked out his midnight blue Honda Civic. He didn’t throw on jeans; he spent hours trying on combos of his extensive $3,000 Sean John wardrobe to get his look right.

“That was Lawrance. Each outfit had shoes, matching cap,” said his mother, Charles Evelyn Jones-Grays of Rancho Cucamonga, who served in the Marine Corps before her sons were born, then joined the Army National Guard.

“I’d just want to run up to the store, and it would take Lawrance an hour to get dressed,” added his best friend since seventh grade, Army Sgt. Steven Ballinger of Fayetteville, N.C., who now has Carter’s cherished car.

After Carter enlisted, he did four tours, the first two in Afghanistan, the last two in Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Schweinfurt, Germany.

He was trained as an infantryman. He completed airborne school and flew to the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, where he “went where the Army was and jumped out of planes, always at night, because you’re a target in daylight,” his mother said. “I spent four years holding my breath. Then he volunteered to be a gunner in the lead vehicle of a convoy.”

Standing in the gun turret of an armored Humvee, Carter, 25, was one of two soldiers killed instantly Dec. 29 when a roadside bomb exploded near them in northwest Baghdad, said Army Maj. Wayne Marotto, public affairs officer for the 1st Armored Division.

“We stared at each other in our turrets,” Army Pfc. Tam Pham wrote to Carter’s family in an e-mail, “and exchanged a few words of motivation -- ‘You ready, little brother?’ ‘Let’s do this, big brother.’

“I mourn his loss, and the actions of that day are still fresh in my mind and will probably never leave my eyes. My only wish is to rewind that day and tell him how good of a friend and leader he was to me.”

Ballinger, who was in Fallouja during Carter’s first Iraq tour, said his friend was a hero. “A lot of people say this when someone dies,” he said, “but Lawrance was special.”

Posthumously, the Army promoted Carter from corporal to sergeant and awarded him the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart for injury in the line of duty.

Carter had been awarded at least 10 other medals and “was courageously carrying out his duties when his vehicle was attacked by an improvised explosive device,” Marotto wrote in an e-mail from Wiesbaden, Germany.

In August 2005, Carter had reenlisted for another four years in the Army, said William Jones Jr., Carter’s older brother by nine years. “He was supposed to get out in October of 2005, but he decided to reenlist for another four years,” said Jones, who is stationed at Ft. Gordon, Ga., where he is a military instructor. “He talked about joining the local police force when he got out, but he really was doing what he always dreamed of doing.”

Carter’s brigade was deployed to Iraq in September, his mother said, adding, “You know, he died three days after his 25th birthday.”

Friends had sent him birthday greetings on his page, which Carter checked the same day he was killed. He and his Army buddies wrote rap and hip-hop songs together about “girls and cars,” said ex-girlfriend Silvia Parratt of Colorado, who met Carter while staying in Germany.

“It didn’t take much to fall in love with Lawrance,” she said. “He respected you and expected the same from you.”

Carter, who was born in Upland and graduated from Hillside High School in 1999, “worked hard for everything,” Ballinger said. “He spent a lot of money on clothes and his car, but he earned every penny he spent. He was proud of that; it was important to him.”

Asked what she wanted remembered about her son, Jones-Grays said, “That I’m proud of him. He accomplished his mission, he went out there knowing what could happen, he did his job and he did it well.”

In addition to his mother and brother, Carter is survived by his stepfather, Ollie Grays; and his grandmother, Theola Evelyn Christy.




War casualties

Total U.S. deaths*:

* In and around Iraq**: 3,063

* In and around Afghanistan***: 297

* Other locations***: 56

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 Jan. 20