Air Force Senior Airman Nicholas Eischen, 24, Clovis

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

They were up in the high country, floating across the lake in a houseboat. Nicholas Eischen wanted to know what his family thought he should do with his life.

He had worked at a pool service and at a few other short-term jobs. “All of them were things that didn’t have a future to them,” said his grandfather, Bob Pinion. “He was looking for a future.”

By that time, in the summer of 2003, Eischen was already drinking the same beer as his father and grandfather, and listening to the same music -- “there are only two kinds,” Pinion said, “country and Western” -- but he didn’t want the same job as they had.

“His father and I,” Pinion said, “are both plumbers. We didn’t want him in the trade. He had better fish to fry. We didn’t want him all broken up at 50 years old.”

The clan from Clovis, adjacent to Fresno, gathered around hot dogs and steaks aboard the family’s houseboat on Huntington Lake in the Sierra, helped him settle on a career in the Air Force.

Eischen enlisted in 2003, rising to the rank of senior airman. He was assigned to the 60th Medical Operations Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, southwest of Sacramento. His most recent posting was in Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base, about 25 miles north of Kabul, where he apparently died in his sleep Dec. 24. He was 24.

Fellow servicemen discovered his body the next morning when they broke down his door 20 minutes after his alarm clock first rang. The cause of death remains a mystery.

Pinion said that doctors had removed his grandson’s gallbladder three weeks earlier, but that Eischen was believed to be otherwise healthy and the procedure had gone smoothly.

Eischen was the sixth graduate of Buchanan High School in Clovis to die in Iraq or Afghanistan, and he was a close friend of two of the others who died.

A 2001 graduate of the 2,000-student high school, Eischen was part of an influx of students who joined the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“The attack that year did to the class of ’01 what Pearl Harbor did in World War II,” said Tim Rolen, a longtime friend of the Eischen family and pastor of New Hope Community Church, who presided at Eischen’s funeral.

Eischen’s supervisors in the Air Force remembered him as a dedicated medical technician on the base, treating service members and local residents alike.

“He said, ‘Grandpa, a lot of people have blood and everything. But I work through that. I don’t think about that. If I get squeamish, I fail them,’ and it was all about them,” Pinion said.

Eischen had hoped to return to the United States and become an emergency room nurse.

In addition to his grandfather, he is survived by his wife, Leah; a 2-year-old son, Braeden; his parents, Drew and Suzi Eischen; a brother, Drew “Joey” Eischen; and a sister, Jamie Hovsepian.