Sgt. John Rode was a "soldier at heart" who left South Mecklenburg High School early to join the Army. He loved golf, children and, most of all, his family.
That's how relatives will remember the 24-year-old. He died last week in Baqubah, Iraq, after a roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle, the Pentagon said Sunday.
"He loved the military," said sister Peggy Rode-Storey, who lives in Matthews. Rode, who lived in Pineville before enlisting in October 2001, was a mechanic assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, based in Fort Hood, Texas.
He'd been on a special mission on his second tour in Iraq when he was killed, Rode-Storey said. Two other soldiers based at Fort Hood were also killed in the incident. All told, 3,139 U.S. soldiers have died since March 2003 in Iraq, according to The Associated Press.
Rode and his family moved to Pineville from Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1999, and he remained a Canadian citizen. He enrolled at South Mecklenburg High but left early, just shy of 18, to pursue a GED and join the Army, Rode-Storey said.
Rode's father and stepmother, Tom and Cheryl Rode, have since moved to Lake Mary, Fla.
Rode joined the military, in part, to follow the lead of his father, who spent 25 years in the Canadian armed forces, Rode-Storey said.
Rode-Storey said her brother insisted on calling her 21-month-old daughter, Isabelle, "Iggy," because it was "his own little name for her."
He wanted his niece to call him "Uncle Baboon" in return, Rode-Storey said, laughing.
Tim Shelton of Charlotte, a neighbor of Rode's aunt and uncle, said Rode would fly paper airplanes with his 12-year-old son when he was home on leave.
"He was very nice," Shelton said. "He was very generous, very respectful."
Rode was also an accomplished soldier, Fort Hood spokeswoman Nancy Bourget said.
He had received several awards, including an Army Achievement Medal, she said.
Rode had about eight months left in Iraq, his sister said.
She said he e-mailed family members often and didn't talk much about the war, except to say, "It's not like what you see on the news right now; it's different."
Rode never became an American citizen, though after he returned from his first tour of duty in 2005, all he had to do was file the paperwork, his sister said. U.S. officials accelerate citizenship for noncitizens who volunteer for the military.
She and her family plan to complete the process for him.
"Part of the reason we came here was to have all the liberties of a U.S. citizen," Rode-Storey said.