ST. LOUIS – Ricky Bell was due to come home in less than a month. Michael Hook couldn't wait to do the same — his fiancee is pregnant. Both were among 14 U.S. soldiers killed when a Black Hawk helicopter crashed in northern Iraq, part of the Pentagon's worst single-day death toll in Iraq since January.
The military said it appeared the aircraft was lost Wednesday due to mechanical problems and not from hostile fire.
The death toll included troops from Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Missouri and Ohio, according to news reports. The military did not immediately release their names.
The helicopter's two pilots and two flight crew members were based at Washington state's Fort Lewis, base spokesman David Kuhns said.
The Black Hawk had just picked up troops after a mission when it crashed, said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman in northern Iraq.
The 10 troops picked up were based at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii, according to a statement by Col. Timothy M. Ryan, rear detachment commander of the 25th Infantry Division.
Bell, 21, was due to come home to Caruthersville, Mo., on leave Sept. 13, his aunt, Glenda Overbey, told The Associated Press. He had been in Iraq since June, where he turned 21 on June 30.
"I knew him when he was a little boy," said J.J. Bullington, his former middle school principal. "I taught him swimming. This is a real small community of about 7,000. Everybody knows each other."
Another victim, Josh Harmon, 20, of Mentor-on-the-Lake, Ohio, about 25 miles northeast of Cleveland, was a combat medic in the Army, said Tim Serazin, a lieutenant at the nearby Willoughby Hills Fire Department, where Harmon's father, Richard, serves as chief.
"It's horrible, and obviously there are other families going through this as well," he said after military officials contacted the Harmon family Wednesday night.
Harmon, a 2003 high school graduate, got married earlier this year to a woman he had met while training in Hawaii, Serazin said.
The family has a tradition of public service, he said. "He was very proud of his father and his father was very proud of him," Serazin said.
Hook, 25, of Altoona, Pa., had been in Iraq for almost a year on his first tour, said his father, Larry Hook, who lives north of Atlantic City, N.J.
"He died doing what he wanted to do," Larry Hook told the Altoona Mirror in Thursday's editions. "But it's been pretty devastating."
Hook graduated in 2001 from Altoona Area High School, where he played football. "It was his dedication that I remember," coach Phil Riccio said.
The crash also claimed the life of 21-year-old Army Spc. Nathan Hubbard — the second tragedy for his family, which lost another son in Iraq three years ago, the Fresno Bee reported.
The Hubbards, of Clovis, Calif., lost Nathan's older brother, Marine Lance Cpl. Jared Hubbard, to a roadside bomb in downtown Ramadi in 2004. A third brother, Jason, will be returning home from Iraq to be with his family, said Clovis police spokeswoman Janet Stoll-Lee.
In suburban Chicago, the death of Phillip J. Brodnick, 27, was announced by Burbank, Ill., Mayor Harry Klein during a village board meeting Wednesday night, The (Tinley Park) Daily Southtown newspaper reported. Brodnick is the son of Burbank police officer James Brodnick, Police Chief Bruce Radowicz said.
Another Missouri victim was Jessy Pollard, a 2003 high school graduate from Springfield. He died doing what he wanted to do, Pollard's stepfather, Alan Dewitt, told the Springfield News-Leader.
"He was fighting for our American freedoms that we enjoy," Dewitt said. "After high school, he really got into wanting to do that. He prayed about it a lot before he joined."
Pollard, 21, is survived by his mother, Patti Jo Dewitt, and a sister. His aunt, Sandy Kaufman, said her nephew had been excited to pursue a military career.
"He just really embraced it," she said. "He'd come home and regale us with stories about jumping out of planes at night."