Army Spec. Christopher Hoskins of Killingly died June 21, 2005 in Ramadi, Iraq, when his unit came under small arms fire. He had recently re-enlisted. He was 21 years old.
Claudia Hoskins was in the bathroom putting on her makeup to get ready for work when the unexpected knock sounded on her front door.
"It feels like your heart's been ripped out. It's your worst day," Claudia Hoskins said Saturday. "Then you go on from there."
For this family, going on means planning for Hoskins' funeral, to take place at Arlington National Cemetery, as well as celebrating his short life. Claudia Hoskins and her daughter, Kristin Mayo, spoke to reporters Saturday morning in Killingly, where her son grew up and first expressed a desire to enlist in the Army.
"He was most proud of his time in the service," Claudia said, pointing to pictures of her son, which spanned from Hoskins as a baby, his kindergarten picture, playing Little League, and later, his graduation from Killingly High School, as well as basic training in the Army. "You can tell by the pictures that we loved him very much."
Hoskins enlisted in 2003 and recently signed up for another four years.
Army officials said that Hoskins died Tuesday in Ramadi, Iraq, when his unit came under small-arms fire. Another solider in Hoskins' unit also was killed. Both soldiers were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
Hoskins' family was notified early Wednesday.
Hoskins became the 27th serviceman or civilian with Connecticut ties to die in Iraq or Afghanistan since March 2002.
Claudia Hoskins, composed and eloquent as she spoke, said that her son volunteered to go to Iraq when his unit was called because he had such strong camaraderie with the men in his unit.
"He didn't have to go, but he went," she said. "He enjoyed being a soldier and he died doing what he loved to do."
Those who knew him said that Hoskins was not one to shy away from challenges. His high school wrestling coach said that Hoskins joined the team as a junior with no prior wrestling experience. But the quiet young man worked his way into the starting lineup of a team that eventually won a conference championship, coach Rich Bowen said.
"He wasn't real fiery. He just came to practice each day, probably didn't say two or three words, if that," Bowen said last week. "I think to him it was just a challenge. He was a very quiet kid, laid back."
Hoskins served as a driver for a Bradley fighting vehicle and driver and gunner on a Humvee. He was in Iraq for nearly a year, but was expected to leave the country for Kuwait within the next six weeks, his mother said.
The last time that Hoskins visited his family, in January, he told his mother what he would want if he died. It was a conversation, his mother said, that doesn't usually take place for someone so young. Her son would have turned 22 in August.
"I have no regrets about those conversations," Claudia Hoskins said. "It helped me know as a mother what he wanted."
Among Hoskins' desires was to set up two memorial funds to benefit youngsters in Killingly, one to help pay for assistive technology in the school system because his younger brother, 15-year-old Sean, is a student with special needs. The other fund to be established will benefit the high school art department because Hoskins had a love of the graphic arts. Among Hoskins' possessions that his family is waiting to receive from the Army is a sketchbook that he took to Iraq.
Claudia Hoskins said that she last spoke with her son two weeks ago; Kristin Mayo said that she chatted with her brother via e-mail only last week.
"He was happy and he wanted to be there," she said of his tour in Iraq. "He thought he was doing the right thing."
Added Claudia, of her son's impressions of the people in Iraq, "He said, `They are just like us with the same kinds of needs ... food, water, clothing and a safe place to be, and that's why I'm here.' I thought, 'Here's my young man who is a young man among men,'" she said. "And he was very proud."
An Associated Press report is included in this story.