Several weeks ago, Army Spc. Casey W. Nash came home on leave from Iraq to visit his family in Essex and Middle River.
He watched sports with his father, worked on his sister's car and drove his beloved red-and-white Chevrolet S-10 Xtreme pickup truck. A quiet man, the 22-year-old said little about his time in the combat zone, but he did make this point: Six months into his second tour of duty in Iraq, he was ready to leave the Army and return home for good.
That visit was the last time his family saw him.
On Friday, Specialist Nash and two other soldiers were killed in Tahir, Iraq, by an improvised explosive device. The others were Sgt. Anselmo Martinez III, 26, of Robstown, Texas, and Spc. Joshua G. Romero, 19, of Crowley, Texas.
"He just didn't want to be there anymore," his father, Lewis Nash, said yesterday, tears welling in his eyes.
Specialist Nash enlisted in the Army in February 2003, less than a year after graduating from Eastern Technical High School, where he played football.
A fire support specialist, his duties included mapping coordinates and driving a Humvee, his father said. In October 2005, Specialist Nash was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division in Fort Hood, Texas, according to an Army spokesman.
In October, Specialist Nash was sent to Iraq for the second time after an earlier 15-month deployment. According to relatives, he had originally signed up for four years with the Army, but the term of his enlistment was extended. The time spans of both of his tours in Iraq also were lengthened, they said.
He told his family that he felt that he was being pressured to re-enlist.
"They pushed him and pushed him, and he kept telling them no," his father said.
Born in Pasadena, Texas, Casey Nash moved to Middle River with his family when he was a boy and settled in the same small white house where his father had been raised. As a child, he shot baskets through the weatherbeaten hoop that still stands in front of that home.
Family connections run deep in the neighborhood. Cousins live across the street, and Nash attended Victory Villa Elementary, Middle River Middle, and Eastern Technical, as his father had done.
A talented athlete, he was coached by his father in Little League baseball. In high school, he played center and guard on the varsity football team. Nash's football coach, Marc Mesaros, choked back tears yesterday as he recalled the offensive lineman for his quiet leadership on the varsity team, brutal honesty and "get-it-done" attitude.
"He was a John Wayne kind of kid," said Mr. Mesaros, adding that he exchanged e-mails with Specialist Nash during his first tour in Iraq.
Mr. Mesaros, who teaches computer graphics and Web design, described Specialist Nash's senior year - when he was injured in one of the team's first scrimmages - as an illustration of his work ethic.
"He overcame a devastating ankle injury, and after missing most of the season, he finished the year with a strong performance in our final game," Mr. Mesaros said. Though injured, Nash kept showing up for practice to support his teammates.
While he was in high school, Casey Nash moved with his mother, Sandra Nash, and sister, Sara Nash, to a home in Essex. Yesterday, his pickup and yellow motorcycle were parked in front of that house. A yellow ribbon was tied to the tree.
An uncle, Tony Edge, said that Specialist Nash's mother was too upset to comment. Yesterday was her birthday, he added.
Relatives said that they were surprised when Nash announced that he was joining the military and offered little explanation for his choice.
He sent back photos from Iraq of giant spiders that he had caught in a jar and a tipped Humvee from which he had escaped. He told his father that he once pulled a buddy out a burning Jeep.
During his most recent visit, Specialist Nash stayed in his basement bedroom in his mother's home that he had outfitted with a stereo, refrigerator and video game console.
He played pool with his father and another uncle, Fred Nash, and hung out with his girlfriend, whom he had dated since high school.
A photo from the visit shows Specialist Nash, a tall man with a solid build, light blue eyes and blond hair, smiling next to his girlfriend.
While he was visiting, he was shaken when he found out that some buddies in Iraq had been killed.
"He was upset because he felt like he had let them down," his father said.
He had told his father that he was frustrated that his military service had been extended. He had hoped to pursue a career with computers after leaving the Army or join the ironworks company where his father is a supervisor.
Lewis Nash, 46, said that the military has provided little specific information about how his son died, whether the casket could be open or closed for the funeral, or even when his body would arrive.
Specialist Nash had been slated for a promotion to sergeant, but the paperwork had been held up. Yesterday, military representatives told his family that the promotion had been approved, his father said.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.
Sun reporters Gina Davis and Josh Mitchell contributed to this article.