The home of the family of Lance Cpl. Dion James Stephenson was filled with relatives, friends and even the late Marine's high school football coach and principal Thursday .
They were there to give comfort following the death of Stephenson, 22, the first Utahn to fall in combat during the gulf war.Yellow ribbons and an American flag were near the family's front door, as friends and neighbors visited. The driveway was filled with the cars of people who kept arriving to pay their respect.
Neighbors of the Stephensons' had tears in their eyes, and some seemed to be in shock. One man said a Marine contingent came to the family's home a few minutes before 2 a.m. Thursday to inform the family of the death.
Jim Stephenson told the Deseret News that his son, a 1987 graduate of Woods Cross High School, was unmarried and had been a Marine for three years - and was a proud member of one of its most elite reconnaissance units.
"He wrote quite a few letters home and called. He conveyed that it was all worth it for the Kuwaiti people and that something had to be done to put this guy (Saddam Hussein) down. He was happy that a majority of the people were behind him. And he backed (Gen. Norman) Schwarzkopf and (Gen. Colin) Powell and other leaders 100 percent," he said.
"He loved people. That's what he was fighting for, the Kuwaiti people - and the children. That's what the war was about to him."
Stephenson said that his son strongly wanted to join the Marines and was happy in the service.
The elder Stephenson has another son in the Persian Gulf who is also in the Marines, Shaun James Stephenson, 19. Shaun will accompany his older brother's body home for burial.
"I don't want people to forget what he did and how he supported what is being done," Jim Stephenson said about his son.
Even though it has been more than three years since he graduated from high school, Stephenson visited Woods Cross principal Mike Jarman last summer and had been in touch with other teachers at the school.
A former Marine himself, Jarman said he and Stephenson were well-acquainted before Stephenson graduated and strengthened their kinship after he became a Marine. "He was not excited about war but was excited about being a Marine and serving his country," Jarman said with considerable emotion. "He was the kind of kid you'd like to have a whole school full of."
Stephenson was athletic in high school sports and was a member of the boys' swim team, snow boarding club, Spanish club and National Forensic League. He coached the swim team for a short time before joining the Marines.
Drama teacher Bonni Hobbs characterized Stephenson as "extremely coachable and always a gentleman," the kind of student who was sensitive and could pay attention to detail.
"He was a little guy. He wasn't muscular in strength, but he was in heart," said Lee Watson, who was a year behind Stephenson in school. "It didn't matter what crowd you were in, he would always come up and shake your hand."
Watson's mother, Mary Ann, a neighbor of the Stephensons, said the family moved to Bountiful when Dion was in the ninth grade. "He just fit in like a glove," she said. "I just hope he didn't die in vain."
Jarman announced the tragic news to the high school Thursday morning and said it cast a pall over the student body, even though most of the students now at the school didn't know Stephenson.
Neighbors said the family had asked not to be disturbed by reporters at this time.
Friends and classmates of Stephenson remembered him as a cheerful, friendly and athletic young man.
Utah leaders expressed sympathy to Stephenson's family.
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, received a call from Jim Stephenson about how proud he was of his son the the American cause.
Garn said, "Considering how difficult it is for a parent to lose a child, I am touched by Mr. Stephenson's attitude and perspective. I am very proud that he is able to feel like this at such a personally trying time."
The governor said the death "brings to us clearly the reality of the conflict in which we are engaged and certainly comes as a great tragedy in the life of the Stephenson family, the community and those who knew Lance Cpl. Dion Stephenson."
Bangerter said he was proud of Stephenson and his family, "who have continued their unwavering support for the principles on which this great country was founded even after suffering a great personal loss."