Norman L. Tollett, of Elyria, Ohio, didn't travel a straight path after high school. He went to college but dropped out after 2 1/2 years, then worked off and on for his father's vending machine company.
Then he went to New York City to visit a friend and dropped by the former site of the World Trade Center towers. He came home and said he needed to do his part, his father, Dave Tollett, said Tuesday. Not long after that Tollett enlisted in the Army. It was 2004, and he was 28 years old.
"He was a single guy, and he said that maybe he could go over there and take the place of one of those kids that's married and got a baby," Dave Tollett said.
Sgt. Norman Tollett, 30, was killed by small-arms fire in Baghdad on Saturday, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
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It was his second tour of duty there with his Fort Bragg-based unit, the 1st Battalion of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division.
Tollett was raised in Elyria, a town near Cleveland, and graduated in 1994 from Elyria Catholic High School, where he was co-captain of the football team. His father said Tollett was a dedicated sports buff who had in recent years turned from team sports to golf.
After high school, Tollett studied for an education degree. He hoped to become a high school history teacher and a coach, probably football, said his father.
When he enlisted, he was a decade older than many recruits. In a way that wasn't a surprise, said his father, citing Tollett's grandmother, who had enrolled in college at age 50.
"We're late starters," his father said.
From Iraq, Tollett called home about once a week but seldom had anything to say about his work. Instead, he'd talk about the weather, how bad the food was and how much weight he had lost.
Tollett's enlistment was to end in November, and he had pondered aloud whether he was too old at age 30 to go back to college.
"How old will you be if you don't?" said his grandmother, the late enroller.
And so Tollett was going to start again: He had decided to go back and earn that teaching degree.
His survivors also include his mother, Martha M. Sparks, and brothers Donald P. Tollett and David R. Tollett, all of Elyria, Ohio.
(News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.)