A U.S. Marine with Minnesota family ties has been killed in Afghanistan.
Lance Cpl. Eric L. Ward, 19, of Redmond, Wash., was part of a security mission in the southern province of Helmand when an improvised explosive device killed him and another Marine Sunday, Ward's mother, Monica McNeal, said by phone Friday night from her home in Washington.
Ward attended kindergarten and first grade in the Twin Cities area when his family lived in Chanhassen. The family then moved to California and Washington, but Ward visited Minnesota every year because of his mother's family ties in Winthrop, Minn., his mother said.
He was a fourth-generation Marine who always strove to be his best, she said, noting that even when Eric was a child, his love for the Marines was clear: His bedroom was draped with camouflage.
"Eric loved life," McNeal said. "He kind of lived life on the edge of the sandbox. He pushed the limit. He made people laugh."
Ward was a competitive baseball and football player in high school, but had a sensitive side, too. His mother said one morning he arrived early to class and put a Hershey's kiss chocolate on every student's desk.
He joined the Marines in July 2008 and was deployed in October 2009. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force at Base Camp Lejeune, N.C.
"He was just ready to serve," his mother said. "And he was a really giving person."
While in Afghanistan, Ward spoke often with his mother via cell phone or Facebook, where a memorial page with more than 1,200 fans now has sprung up. He never talked about safety concerns, instead reassuring his mother that he was fine and focusing on stories about the Afghan children he encountered and how eager they were to receive pens and pencils from soldiers.
"On Facebook, he said, 'Mom, I'm safe. Don't worry. I love you,' " McNeal said.
Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire has directed that flags at Washington state buildings fly at half staff Monday in memory of Ward. A memorial service will be held March 13 at his high school in Washington. He will be buried March 19 at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.
Ward is also survived by his father and five siblings.
"As a parent, you only want your child to do the things that make them very happy, and I'm proud that he chose this career knowing that death was part of being a Marine during wartime, and I'm proud to be his mom," McNeal said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391