Four paratroopers - including Spc. Ebe F. Emolo of Greensboro - assigned to the Fort Bragg-based 82nd Airborne Division were slain by a bomb blast in Iraq over the weekend, the Pentagon announced Tuesday.
Their deaths mean that nine soldiers in the 330-man squadron have been killed in action over a three-week stretch.
Killed were: Spc. Ebe F. Emolo, 33, of Greensboro; Capt. Jonathan D. Grassbaugh, 25, of East Hampstead, N.H.; Spc. Levi K. Hoover, 23, of Midland, Mich.; and Pfc. Rodney L. McCandless, 21, of Camden, Ark.
They died after an improvised bomb exploded near their unit in the village of Zaganiyah. Just days earlier, soldiers from the squadron had found a weapons cache and a long-suspected insurgent training camp near the village, which is in a heavily-vegetated part of the Diyala River Valley about 30 miles north of Baghdad.
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The valley is known as an insurgent stronghold.
In Grassbaugh's small hometown in New Hampshire, where his mother is the principal of the town's middle school, flags were still flying at half-staff four days after his death.
He was a gifted student who worked his way into a coveted spot at Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the nation's most prestigious preparatory schools, said his elementary school principal, Dillard Collins. At Phillips Exeter, he was an honors student.
"He never had to study super hard," said Grassbaugh's brother, Jason, an Army surgeon who himself graduated from West Point and medical school, but always had to put more sweat into school than his brother. "He was just innately bright."
He also had a force of will that wouldn't be denied.
"Once he made his mind up on something, you weren't going to get him to change it," Jason Grassbaugh said.
Which meant choosing his own route into the military, rather than following his brother's footsteps into West Point. He went to Johns Hopkins where he earned a degree in computer science and used ROTC to prepare for the Army. Then he signed up for Airborne duty and the notoriously tough Ranger school, as his father had done before him.
"I think the reason he went into the Army was that he wanted to challenge himself," Jason Grassbaugh said. "He thought it would help him become the best man he could be."
Now his family is left with memories of an eloquent, hard-headed soldier who was such a sensitive observer that he could be happy for hours over a particularly beautiful sunset.
One of the hardest things for the family, said his brother, was knowing that Jonathan and his wife, Jenna, whom he had met in ROTC, had so many dreams.
"They had such in-depth plans," he said. "They were going to grow old together."
Through the 82nd Airborne, families of the other three men asked the media not to contact them.
All four men were assigned to the 5th Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team. The squadron lost four other soldiers in a bomb blast in the nearby city of Baqubah on March 25. Another paratrooper was killed in a bomb blast March 17, that one also in Baqubah.
Emolo enlisted in February 2005 and joined the 82nd in December 2005. Hoover joined the Army in January 2005 and came to his unit in June that same year. McCandless signed up in August 2005 and reported to the 82nd Airborne Division in April 2006.
In a news release, the squadron's rear detachment commander, Capt. John Carson, said the four had been inspirations to the soldiers around them, and that the unit was indebted to them.