Brian Holden

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    - Bill Holden
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CLAREMONT -- Brian Holden had patrolled the Iraq desert as a gunner atop a Humvee since October and was looking forward to relaxing at Myrtle Beach during a two-week leave later this month.

On Monday, six months after he arrived in Iraq and four years after the fall of Baghdad, a roadside bomb exploded beneath his Humvee. This time, Holden was driving. He and two others were killed.

Holden, 20, joined the Army shortly after graduating from Newton-Conover High School in 2005. He finished boot camp with honors and was deployed in October 2006 to Camp Loyalty in Iraq, said his mother, Leasa DeLozier.

To wear the Army uniform, she said, had been a dream of Holden's since childhood.

"He had opportunities to apply for other jobs, but he just wanted to serve his country," she said. "We're so proud of him."

On Wednesday, DeLozier and her husband, Eugene, looked through a scrapbook they had been building since Holden joined the military. In a group photo of his stern-faced boot-camp class, only Holden and a friend are grinning.

"The kid was always smiling," said Eugene DeLozier. "They were supposed to be these tough warriors, and they're smiling. That was Brian."

Still, in the days before his death, Holden began worrying about mounting attacks on U.S. forces.

Holden's convoy had been hit twice before by roadside bombs during his first two months in Iraq, but he was unhurt, his parents said. Another time, they said, his Humvee rolled, trapping him against the sand.

His goal for the year, his mother said, was to make it home alive.

"That's the wrong kind of goal for a 20-year-old person to have," she said.

At least 3,292 members of the U.S. military have died since the beginning of the Iraq war, according to an Associated Press count.

The Army will fly Holden's body to Hickory Regional Airport this week, his parents said, and he will be buried at Catawba Memorial Park in Hickory.

The DeLoziers learned about Holden's death Tuesday morning, after military officials visited his wife, Amanda, and his father and stepmother, Bill and Helen Holden, in Cornelius.

Holden married Amanda, his high school girlfriend, in March 2006, and would talk with her online every day, she said. They were saving for a house, wanted to start a family and hoped to travel to Australia after Holden returned home.

He had planned to leave the Army next year.

"He's my hero, and he always will be," Amanda Holden said. "I wish I could say that to him."

On Wednesday, two days after her husband died, Amanda Holden received a birthday card in the mail from him.

"He wrote that he loved me and missed me," she said. "And that he couldn't wait to be together with me on the beach."

Published in Charlotte Observer on Apr. 12, 2007
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