Derrick Gwaltney couldn''t wait to come home from Iraq and see his wife and 2-year-old daughter _ and the son the couple was expecting, his family said.
They had spoken to him on Thanksgiving, just days before he died.
"We put him on speaker phone so everyone could yell, ''Derrick, we love you! Happy Thanksgiving!'' He kind of chuckled and laughed and said, ''Thanks everybody.'' He said, ''I''ll talk to you later mom.'' That was it," said his mother, Patricia Gwaltney.
Gwaltney, 21, of Cape Coral, Fla., died Nov. 29 south of Basra. His family said he was found alone with a single gunshot wound to his head. He graduated from Sandusky High School in Ohio in 2006 and enlisted in the military in 2008. He was assigned to Fort Lewis.
His sister, Latisha Gwaltney, said he was apprehensive about his deployment but was "strong-willed and brave."
Whitney Brechner of Cape Coral remembered her "Insomnia Buddy" in a posting on an online message board. She recalled the late-night talks and adventures playing "World of Warcraft" the two would have in the wee hours.
"Derrick was an incredibly caring and selfless man," she said. "He was a loving father and a wonderful friend."
He is survived by his wife, Heidi, daughter and stepdaughter.