CHICAGO — Conner Lowry wanted to fight for his country but understood his mother and siblings in Chicago would worry if they thought he was going to be sent into combat.
On Friday, less than a day after learning that the 24-year-old Marine corporal had been killed in Afghanistan, his mother and younger sister remembered how even as he was getting ready to leave he tried to protect them as best he could, even if it meant saying something he couldn't possibly believe himself.
"I was pretty upset and he saw that (so) he said, 'Grace, don't worry, I'm just going to guard some gate in Europe, I probably won't see any combat,'" said 17-year-old Grace Lavin.
The family still didn't know the specifics of what happened except that Lowry, a gunner in a Humvee, was killed on March 1.
The Department of Defense said Friday Lowry died while conducting combat operations in Helmand province and that the incident was under investigation.
They think "it was just my boy" who was killed, his mother, Modie Lavin, said, but she wasn't certain of that either. The family waited for answers from military representatives coming to their house, along with details about when Lowry's remains would arrive at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
In the meantime, they talked about the popular boy he had been, and the young man "more handsome than the day is long," as his mother put it, that he grew to be. And they talked about what he wanted to do with his life.
A lifelong resident of Chicago's South Side, Lowry as a boy was, like a lot of the city's kids, a huge fan of Notre Dame sports and he couldn't get enough of Chicago Bulls basketball star Michael Jordon.
"His life revolved around Michael Jordan," Modie Lavin said. "He had Michael Jordan shoes, shorts, socks, everything."
Lowry's mother said he was a "decent athlete" who grew to be 6-foot-5 inches tall and played football at Brother Rice High School, a prominent Catholic high school on the South Side.
He went to college in Iowa and after a couple of years decided to enlist in the Marines with a couple of buddies.
"He thought it would be good for him, he thought it would be good for his country," she said.
Lavin said she was stunned at the news, saying that hers is not a military family and that she could think of no one who had served.
"I just told him, 'Please don't,'" she said.
And yet she watched him turn into "an outstanding Marine."
"He got lots of accolades, a big award at Camp Pendleton," his mother said.
In the Marines since September 2008 and in Afghanistan since last October, Lowry was just four months from being discharged, his sister said.
"He couldn't wait to get back home to South Side, Irish Catholic Chicago," and hopefully get a job as a Chicago firefighter, said his mother. "That's all he talked about."
On Friday, the principal of Brother Rice, Jim Antos, told the students that someone who once walked the same halls had been killed in Afghanistan — the second student from Lowry's class to die there in the past two years.
Antos, who got to know Lowry at a school retreat and sometimes talked to him about his own experience in the Army during the Vietnam War, recalled a "good kid."
"He came to visit (the school) last spring about this time of year to see a few teachers, and I was privileged to be one of them," Antos said. "He told me he was probably going to be deployed. He was smiling, his life was together."