Shawn Murphy beat injury and two serious illnesses to realize his dream of front-line duty in Iraq.
On Sunday, that dream cost Murphy his life.
Pfc. Murphy, 24, was killed in Baghdad when an improvised bomb detonated near his armored Humvee during a night patrol, his father, Air Force Lt. Col. Mark Murphy, said in a telephone interview Wednesday.
Also killed in the blast were Sgt. Brennan C. Gibson, 26, of Tualatin, Ore. and Spc. Philip C. Ford, 21, of Freeport, Texas. The three men were assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry (Airborne), 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Like many military kids, Murphy was raised at bases all over the country and the world.
Beginning in 4th grade, he wrestled competitively and by the time he reached high school was one of the top-ranked wrestlers in the Far East, competing in invitational tournaments across the region.
"He was 16 and 17, and beating Marines," his father said.
Murphy wanted to be in the military since he was a child, his father said. He would have joined right after graduating from Yorktown High School in Yorktown, Va., but felt an obligation to do two years of Mormon missionary work in Uganda and Kenya.
When he returned, a test showed that he had been exposed to tuberculosis. So before enlisting, he spent a year following a medical regimen and lifting weights -- he loved bodybuilding -- and taking college courses.
His father, then posted at Pope Air Force Base, tried to talk him into joining the Air Force, or going to college so that he could enter the Army as an officer.
No, the younger Murphy said, his country needed him now and he wanted to be as close to the fight as possible.
"Shawn was an incredible patriot," his father said. "He had a lot of other options, but he wanted to be a soldier."
Murphy first signed up for Special Forces training at Fort Bragg. A bout with mononucleosis and a back injury, though, kept him from joining that elite unit, his dad said. He then became a paratrooper.
The deployment to Iraq was his first. When he called or wrote home, it was clear that he thought he had made the right choice.
"He'd e-mail back that he was living the dream," his father said. "You could tell that it really gave him a sense of fulfillment. I'm sure that when he passed away he was happy."
In addition to his father , survivors, all of Alaska, include: his mother, Tonia Murphy; sister, Malia Bond; and brothers Sam, Spencer, Sawyer and Jack.
(Researcher Lamara Williams-Hackett contributed to this report.)