James Justice of Cherryville always craved the soldiers life.
At age 18, after years of waiting, he joined the Army. About a month ago, he left for Afghanistan for his first tour of duty there.
On Thursday, Justice died of a head wound he received during a combat mission. He was 21, married and had three stepdaughters.
Hed made a wonderful soldier, said Melba Carroll, Justices mother-in-law, who lives in Grover. And I couldnt have asked for a better son-in-law.
Justices parents, Randall and Melissa Justice, learned on Tuesday that hed been seriously injured. The Army helped them get passports so they could leave Thursday for Germany, where James Justice was being treated, according to Carroll.
But before they left, they got a call informing them of their sons death.
James Justices wife and children live in Italy, where he had been stationed.
A Kings Mountain native, Justice attended Cherryville High School and received a diploma from Cleveland Community College. He had been married about four years.
Justices aunt, Janet White of Blacksburg, S.C., said he was a very wonderful man who loved his wife and children.
He loved to joke and loved to laugh, she said. He was so full of life.
She had connected with Justices stepdaughters on Facebook and learned that Justice had saved somebodys life before his was taken.
We dont have any details, White said. But Im not surprised at all.
The Rev. David Chapman, pastor of Kings Mountains New Beginnings Church of Jesus Christ, knew Justice from the time he was six years old.
He was a little mischievous as a kid, Chapman said. He grew up in the church. He started playing drums and guitar in church. And he was even ministering in the church as a young man, speaking on youth nights.
Justice and his wife were members of New Beginnings church and not long ago he came and said Im gonna have to go to Afghanistan, recalled Chapman, who has a son who served tours there.
I told him Afghanistan was not a pretty place to be, he said. I know it will be a life-changing experience. But you cant go anywhere your God cant go.
Chapman called Justices death a tragedy.
Were proud to have known him, Chapman said. Were praying for his family. And were praying for all soldiers.
Family members say Justice realized the danger of being a soldier in war time.
But this was something he always wanted to do, said Carroll. He wanted to be an Army man.
The last time she heard from him was on Facebook from Afghanistan.
He told me he loved me, Carroll said. And to be praying for him. I told him, I love you, too. I miss him. He was my hero.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete.