In March 2004, a class of 5th graders at Philadelphia Elementary School created a long distance friendship with a local soldier.
Five months later, that soldier, Lt. Matt Stovall of Philadelphia's 367th Maintenance Company, died in combat, a shock to his family and a devastation to the kids.
"Most of them found out at church on Sunday night. When one found out, they immediately went home and called another one," said Stovall's cousin, Robin McClellan. "So they're supporting each other."
Stovall, 25, had been in Mosul, Iraq, since September 2003. Despite the conditions, McClellan said this is exactly what he wanted to do.
"He loved the guard; he loved who he was with. But that was Matt. I mean, you could give him bad times and he would make it good," McClellan said.
This bad situation is all too familiar to Philadelphia. This is the second soldier it has lost from the same unit. Joshua Ladd died in combat in May 2004.
Stovall and his wife have a two-year-old son.
"He is too young to understand. He goes around with his t-shirt and wipes everyone's tears and says, don't cry mommy, don't cry," said McClellan.
Stovall's brother, who is also serving in Iraq, is due home tomorrow. The body of Matt Stovall is expected to be returned to Mississippi on Friday. Funeral arrangements are incomplete.
Lt. Stovall was featured Aug. 6 in WTOK's "Good News" segment. In his memory, we pay tribute to him and his family and to all Americans in uniform who serve our country at great peril. We thank then all and pray for their well being.
Tom Daniels contributed to this report.