When Elizabeth Lilley sent a package to her son serving in Afghanistan on Tuesday, she wrote a message on the outside: "If undeliverable, give it to any soldier."
Her son, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Arthur L. Lilley, 35, was killed Friday during a firefight in the Paktika Province, near Shkin, Afghanistan, military officials announced Saturday. Lilley, of Smithfield, Pa., was on combat patrol when he was killed by enemy small-arms fire. He was a Special Forces sergeant assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Ft. Bragg.
Lilley joined the Army in 1990, serving with the 101st Airborne Division in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He served in Italy before joining Special Forces in 1996, and he went to Ft. Bragg in 2000 as part of the 96th Civil Affairs Battalion. He was assigned to his current unit in August 2005.
Joining the military was "all he ever dreamed of, and I don't know why," his mother said. Lilley wanted to be an air traffic controller for the Air Force but was colorblind. So the Army became an option he never regretted, she said.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
It was either the military way, God's way or nothing for Lilley, who was active at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Fayetteville, his mother said. Lilley was a youth minister there while his wife, Christine, ran the church school. The high school sweethearts, who have two children, would have celebrated their 16th wedding anniversary in August.
Lilley's tour in Afghanistan was to be his last. Elizabeth Lilley last talked to her son a week ago. He was about to spend a lot of time in the field, but his tone was upbeat. He gave his parents a list of goodies to send, including dried fruit, trail mix, Slim Jims and his favorite -- Doritos.
For years, Elizabeth Lilley has sent her son packages, which take up to two weeks to deliver. She can't explain why she wrote what she did on this last one.
"I don't know why I did that," she said.
Lilley is survived by his wife; daughter, Mackenzie, 9; son, Cole, 7; parents, Arthur and Elizabeth Lilley of Smithfield, Pa.; one brother, two half-brothers, two half-sisters; grandmothers and grandfathers. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. today at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Fayetteville.