By the time he was 16, Brandon Van Parys had spent time volunteering with the fire department in his hometown of New Tripoli, Pa., and painting houses with a mission group in Jamaica.
When he told his parents shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks that he wanted to join the Marines, they knew he had his heart set on it.
"During wartime, it's not exactly a type of place you'd want your kid to be," said Tammy Van Parys, Brandon's stepmother. "We tried to keep him out of it."
Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Van Parys, 20, died Monday -- just 22 days into his first overseas tour -- while conducting combat operations in Iraq's Anbar province. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force, based at Camp Lejeune and currently attached to Regimental Combat Team 6, I MEF (Forward).
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"We're very very saddened by the loss of somebody we loved," Tammy Van Parys said Wednesday evening. "We're deeply grieved that Brandon never got to enjoy some of the simple things in life that some of the other people have."
After high school graduation in 2005, and at the urging of his parents, Van Parys tried his hand at postsecondary education, enrolling at a local community college. It didn't last long, his stepmother said. He joined the Marine Corps in November of that year.
"What was in his heart was the Marine Corps," Tammy Van Parys said.
While in the Marines, Van Parys trained as a field radio operator.
He is survived by his father, Alan Van Parys of New Tripoli, Pa.; mother, Catherine Hearn of Schwenksville, Pa.; stepmother, Tammy Van Parys; stepfather, Greg Hearn; and siblings, Christopher and Daniel Van Parys of New Tripoli, Pa., and Samuel, Jesse and Ashley Hearn of Schwenksville, Pa.
(News researcher Becky Ogburn contributed to this report.)