Mason Vanderwork joined the U.S. Marine Corps just after his high school graduation in 2010.
In the two-and-a-half years that followed, the football player from St. Stephens High School served overseas twice, bought his first car and got married to a girl from home after knowing her for only two months.
They planned to start a family together, wife Taylor Vanderwork said Wednesday.
But those dreams ended Monday when a mortar blew up at Hawthorne Army Depot in Nevada, killing Vanderwork and six others in the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Lejeune. The accident is still under investigation.
Vanderwork was 21.
His wife said she learned of his death Tuesday when three men in uniform came to the door of the couple's Jacksonville home.
"I fell to the floor, and I just cried," Taylor Vanderwork said. "I've lost my husband and part of my military family and I just turned 19-years-old.
"I really want to be dreaming."
The identities of those killed weren't expected to be released until late Wednesday night, according to Cpl. Daniel Wulz, a Marine public affairs officer. The military is waiting until 24 hours after families are notified.
However many of the marines were identified by their families Wednesday as young men just starting their military careers.
Vanderwork fit that mold – his wife said he wanted to be a marine because he knew it would help him become a man.
But unlike some of his company men, Vanderwork didn't want to stay in the corps forever, family members said. He had already served two tours overseas in Afghanistan and most recently Kuwait and hoped to leave the service in 2014 to settle down in one place, Taylor Vanderwork said.
Family members and friends remember Vanderwork as a spontaneous, caring person who loved the beach, fast cars and spending time with family and friends.
He had an 11-year-old sister who idolized him, his family said.
Some of those friends from the Hickory and Jacksonville areas were posting messages and pictures on a Facebook page created Wednesday in his memory.
"I can still hear you laugh, see your smile, and feel your hugs!" friend Tranea Jones posted. "You always brightened my day."
Vanderwork's body will be shipped to the east coast Wednesday night for an autopsy and preparations for burial.
Family members hope to hold two services, in Hickory and Jacksonville, in his memory but have not yet finalized plans.
"I thank God every day for the 11 months I was with him," Taylor Vanderwork said. "I don't know what to think. I don't know what to do."
-- Cameron Steele, The Charlotte Observer
Published in Charlotte Observer on Mar. 20, 2013