TORRANCE, Calif. – In high school, Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. was surprisingly self-assured, knowing early what he wanted to do with his life: join the military.
"I just remember, as a sophomore or a junior in high school, he was set on it," said Kyle Flynn, the soldier's friend and football teammate. "'I'm ready to go,"' Flynn recalled Anzack saying.
Family and friends are mourning Anzack after receiving the news Wednesday that his body was found in the Euphrates River following an ambush in Iraq.
"They told us 'We're sorry to inform you the body we found has been identified as Joe,"' his aunt, Debbie Anzack, told The Associated Press while choking back tears. "I'm in disbelief."
Anzack, 20, was one of three soldiers who vanished after their combat team was ambushed May 12 about 20 miles outside Baghdad. Five others, including an Iraqi, were killed in the ambush, subsequently claimed by Al Qaeda.
Anzack's family had held out hope for the past 11 days. They had already endured an earlier rumor that he was dead — and were relieved to learn then that he was alive.
Flynn, his high school friend, said the two became fast friends on the football team. Anzack played nose guard, while Flynn was a defensive back.
"He was very positive. He was a guy you could look to and say 'I'm OK. I've got Joe right there,"' Flynn said. "He was a man among boys when we were in high school. You don't realize that until something like this happened."
Anzack's father told his hometown newspaper, The Daily Breeze, that several family members gathered in his home for a vigil led by an Army chaplain after hearing the devastating news about his son.
"We said a prayer for the other two boys, then sat around and talked about Joseph," said Joseph Anzack Sr., "just sharing the love of my son and why we all loved him."
The soldier's MySpace Web site was flooded with condolences, and students gathered at Anzack's high school to light candles in remembrance.
In Iraq, members of Anzack's platoon choked back tears at news of his death and said they would not stop looking for the other two missing soldiers.
"We can't leave them behind. I just hope that they have enough faith to keep them going. What they're going through right now, I can't imagine," said Pfc. Sammy Rhodes, 25, of Albuquerque, N.M.
On Thursday, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops combed the fields of southern Iraq in scorching temperatures. The military said it remained determined to find Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.
Fouty's step-grandmother, Mary Dibler of Oxford, Mich., said the family was heartened by people's support but saddened by the news about Anzack.
"We're just continuing the same as we have been, one day at a time," Dibler said. "We continue to pray; that's all we can do."
A yellow ribbon was tied to the front door of Jimenez's father's home in the former mill city north of Boston. Ramon Jimenez, who speaks Spanish, said through a translator in a cell phone conversation that he has been buoyed by the support of friends and family.
"The hope is very high that God is going to give Alex back to him," said Wendy Luzon, a family friend who translated the conversation and has been serving as a spokeswoman for the family.