Jake Vanderbosch turned 21 in August, and his new driver's license came in the mail to his parents' home in Vadnais Heights the other day.
"Now, he'll never get to use it," his mother said softly.
It was 4 in the morning on Monday when Scott and Mary Ann Vanderbosch picked up the phone. On the line was Jake, serving in Iraq as an Army specialist with the 82nd Airborne. It was noon his time, and his squad, serving with the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, was leaving in six hours on a mission along the Euphrates River. It could last 22 days, he told them.
He also told them he was saving some money. He said that you could get a good deal on vehicles in the Middle East, and, ever the optimist, that he was hoping to make a down payment on a truck.
Ten hours later, the armored Humvee he was riding in was hit by an improvised explosive device in Al Haglaniyah, one of the eastern cities targeted in a U.S.-led offensive to retake three towns from
Al-Qaida insurgents. Jake, a gunner who enlisted in the Army two years ago, was killed along with two other soldiers.
"I'm so glad we made it to the phone," Scott Vanderbosch said Thursday.
As a condition of agreeing to talk to reporters in their leafy suburban back yard, Jake's parents asked that no questions be asked about the war in general, wanting to focus instead on the life of
Their three other children, Joe, 24; Ryan, 17, and Jennie, 14, stood behind them. Joe, an Army Reservist, enlisted at the same time as his brother.
At a time when the nation stands increasingly divided over the U.S. presence in Iraq, it wasn't political philosophy or the global war on terrorism that sent Jake Vanderbosch to the military. Many
of those closest to him had no idea how he felt about the war.
For Jake, joining the Army was a personal quest to tame what his mother described as an occasional "wild child" nature, embodied in a slew of minor traffic tickets for moving violations. Jake, his family and friends said on Thursday, found it hard to stay still.
At White Bear Lake High School, he was not a stellar student. Nevertheless, Dan Wagner, his junior-year English teacher, remembered a kid who came in resistant to the classroom but left knowing that learning was not just about books and assignments, but about discipline, responsibility and maturity.
"Some of the best lessons all teachers teach are those auxiliary lessons that have nothing to do with subject matter," Wagner said. "That's where the relationship grows."
The two occasionally exchanged e-mails, and Jake once came to visit wearing his dress greens.
"That's exciting," Wagner said. "That's saying that somehow I made a connection with a young man. But it's not about my connection with him. He was one of the kids that decided that what he was doing was worth it."
Wagner, a teacher for 24 years, likened his former student to federal security agent Jack Bauer, played by actor Kiefer Sutherland on the television show "24." "He was not a man of big stature, but boy, when he walked out, you would have spotted him," Wagner said.
In August, his family visited him in Fort Bragg, N.C. His parents remarked about how he had matured. His mother told him how she worried for his safety, and she remembers a conversation with him:
"He said, `Mom, don't worry about me. Everything is going to be fine.' I said, `Jake, if I could write down the number of times you told me that every time things were going to happen.' He said, `Mom, don't worry.' He was such an optimist."
It was his father who did the worrying, monitoring the Internet and the cable news channels, particularly after his son was deployed to Iraq in September.
"You watch the [war toll] numbers scroll across CNN," he said. "After this happened I thought, if you don't have anyone over there, you watch TV and watch those numbers and you feel bad, but you don't know there's a family behind it. After this happened, you feel for every one of them."
He said the experience has led him to recognize the value of making the most of time with those you love. "I was never a huge hugger in my life, but you don't realize how good a hug is," he said.
Funeral arrangements are pending, but the Sandberg Funeral Home of North St. Paul will accept cards, flowers and memorials. Donations to the Jacob Vanderbosch Memorial Fund can be made at any TCF Bank branch.
Mark Brunswick is at firstname.lastname@example.org.