EAST HARTFORD—Marine Sgt. David Coullard, who grew up in Glastonbury, was killed Aug. 1, 2005 by small-arms fire in Haditha, Iraq, with five others in a sniper team. He was 32 years old.
While checking her e-mail Saturday, Anita Dziedzic opened a photograph of her son. He was standing with a fellow Marine somewhere in Iraq.
On Monday, while waiting for her sister to bring over a new puppy, she looked out the window and instead saw two Marines.
"When they got out of the car, I knew," Dziedzic said Wednesday.
They were there to tell her that her only son had been killed while on sniper duty northwest of Baghdad.
"They stayed until my husband got home. They were standing at attention in the living room," Dziedzic said. "I told them they could leave, but they just said, `No ma'am, we are staying with you.'"
Coullard, 32, was among six Marines - five of them from 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines out of Ohio - in a sniper team who were killed Monday. The U.S. command says the Marines were "engaged by terrorists and killed by small-arms fire" in Haditha, which U.S. and Iraqi officials have identified as a major route for insurgents entering Iraq.
Fourteen other Marines from the same base were killed early Wednesday when their vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device.
Dziedzic and her husband, Greg Dziedzic, spent Wednesday afternoon taking calls from relatives and friends, and talking to reporters at their East Hartford home.
"He's a hero," said Anita Dziedzic, who as a single mother raised her son in Glastonbury. "He's just like any fireman or policeman. You know the risks each time you head out. And that's kind of prepared me. But it doesn't make it any easier.
"We both knew the risks," she said. "He was a sniper up on a hill somewhere. So I always wanted to believe he was safe. Then I think about all the kids getting killed in Hartford and that's all so senseless. This isn't good either, but this was his job and he did it well."
Coullard, who had served in the Marines for about 10 years, loved the military, said childhood friend Ned Gompper. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, only "increased that love of defending the country," said Gompper, who grew up across the street in Glastonbury and was an only child.
"We were brothers. That's how close we were," Gompper said. "He was out and signed back on. That's how much he believed in defending his country. We always expected him to come home.
"It was at the Christmas table when he told everyone he was re-enlisting and heading to Iraq. But he loved his country. He was a solid kid who was raised by a great mother," Gompper said.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered flags across the state to be lowered to half-staff Wednesday afternoon.
"We owe Sgt. Coullard a debt of gratitude for so selflessly taking such a heroic path in the service of our country," she said. "The sacrifice Sgt. Coullard made for each and every one of us is immeasurable, and I ask that everyone pause to consider his loss and appreciate his courage and bravery."
Coullard's body arrived Wednesday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, and his family expected his body to return home early next week. A funeral was being planned at St. Paul Roman Catholic Church in Glastonbury.
Coullard, a 1992 graduate of Glastonbury High School, joined the Marines after a brief stint at Manchester Community College. Anita Dziedzic said her son always wanted to be a Marine and was preoccupied with the military.
"Many nights I would stay awake and if I didn't get the call, I knew he was all right," Dziedzic said. "Then I would wake up and send him an e-mail saying how proud I was of him. Anything to keep it positive."
Several years ago, when she married Greg, her son was there - on a speakerphone from his base, Dziedzic said. He always said he wanted to "give his mom away" when she got married, she said.
Dziedzic taped her son's messages from Iraq so she could hear his voice whenever she missed him.
"He was a man of few words," she said. "But with the phone or the computer, it always felt like he was right around the corner. That's how it felt. Like he was right around the corner whenever we talked."
An Associated Press report is included in this story.