Sgt. Timothy B. Cole Jr. was in the Army, but he'll be buried in Marine dress blues.
Cole served in the Marines first, but after he got out and later decided to re-enlist, the Corps wouldn't take him, said his mother, Connie Cole. There was this little matter of the tattoos.
He had only four when he joined the Marines in October 1998. By the time he left the Corps three years later, they all but coated his arms and back, and the Marine recruiter said there were just too many, she said.
The Army recruiter, though, said no problem. So in October 2001, he enlisted, and in 2006 he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg.
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Cole Jr., 28, of Oakdale, La., was killed Wednesday in As Sadah, a tiny town about 30 miles north of Baghdad. An officer told his parents that a bomb had exploded near him while his unit was on a foot patrol.
At Oakdale High School, he played football and baseball, she said. When he wasn't working, he loved to hang out with his friends, ride motorcycles or take his street car to the drag racing strip.
Cole was the life of any party, she said.
"He always did exactly what he wanted to do, and he just loved having fun," she said. "He always had that smile."
His fellow soldiers said the same thing. But they also said Cole knew when to be serious.
"Sgt. Cole was not only like a little brother to me but was one of the finest noncommissioned officers I have ever worked with," wrote Sgt. 1st Class Robert H. Cobb, in a statement e-mailed from Iraq. "Sgt. Cole always put a smile on my face and was always there helping out anyway he could ... When I would talk about how a sergeant should be, I would use Sgt. Cole as an example."
In the military, he had gotten to see parts of the world he'd otherwise have never experienced, said Connie Cole.
In November, he came home on leave and got two more tattoos. By then his mother had lost track, but said he had at least 15. Among them were a machine gun down one forearm, a cross on his chest and a Humvee and the state of Louisiana on his back. "Live by the gun" was inked on one arm, "Die by the gun" on the other. And on one arm was a tattoo of his first daughter, Alexus.
Cole's unit left Fort Bragg in August. He had served in Afghanistan, but this was his first tour in Iraq. It was a wild one. He had already earned a Purple Heart after being wounded in a grenade attack, been nominated for a medal after saving the life of another soldier, and a Humvee he was riding in had been destroyed by a bomb Sunday, three days before he was killed, said his mother.
That was the last time she talked to him. He had called home and mentioned the bomb, said it had burst the ear drums of three others riding with him, but that he was OK.
His survivors include: his wife, Lindsey W. Cole, of Fort Bragg; his daughters Alexus, Adrianna and Laura; his son, Kross; and his father, Timothy B. Cole Sr., and mother, Connie L. Cole, both of Oakdale, Louisiana.
Kross is 16 months old, said Connie Cole. Two of his daughters are twins, and all three are 6 years old. "It's a long story," said his mom. "He came back from Okinawa with all three of them. Like I said, he liked to have fun."
A Marine has volunteered to fly up to Dover, Del., and escort his body home, said Connie Cole. The small town of Oakdale is going all out, she said. There are yellow ribbons on every store downtown, banks are displaying her son's picture and town leaders expect a flag-waving crowd to line the streets as a hearse brings his body from the airport.
The Army and Marine Corps have been good-natured -- and sometimes maybe not so good-natured -- rivals. But Cole made a request that will bring them together: If he were killed he wanted the detachment at his funeral to come from both services.
"He told me he wanted half and half," Connie Cole said. "And that's what we're going to do."