When he was just a small child, Michael Pursel received a tiny Army uniform from his parents. They thought he'd be thrilled.
They were wrong.
"These just aren't right," Pursel's mother, Terry Dutcher, recalled her son saying. "I have no rank. I have no patch. I have no name."
For as long as anyone could remember, Pursel wanted to be a soldier.
He will be buried later this week among thousands of other soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery. Pursel was one of seven people, including six U.S. soldiers and a Russian journalist, who died May 6, 2007, in Baqubah, Iraq, when a bomb detonated near their vehicle.
On Thursday morning, the 19-year-old former Clinton resident was remembered for his love of his family and friends, of basketball, cars and the outdoors, and - maybe most of all - the Army he served.
Both of Pursel's parents and his stepfather served or are serving in the military.
Dean Pursel, a former Army drill sergeant, recalled bringing his then-4-year-old son to work one day. On his father's command, the little boy screamed for a group of young recruits to "drop" and then watched in amusement as the soldiers fell to the floor and began doing push-ups.
Pursel entered the Army Reserve as a combat engineer, but family members said his dream was to become an active-duty Army Ranger. When a recruiter told him the only way to fulfill that dream was to return for a second trip through basic training, the young soldier didn't flinch - "I didn't learn enough the first time anyway," he told his family.
"He loved the military and he loved what he was doing," Dean Pursel said.
Indeed, Michael Pursel wrote on a personal Web page that he was "living the dream."
"Even though I am at war, I am still having the time of my life," the soldier wrote from the volatile Diyala Province. "I chose to come over here. I wasn't made to come. This is something I've always wanted to do."
Dutcher said she is finding comfort in the knowledge that her son had reconnected with his Christian roots in the final month of his life and was doing what he believed was right, just and important.
"We don't all get to do what we want to do," she said. "But Michael did."
BURIED AT: SECTION 60 SITE 8624
ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY