Residents of three Indiana communities are mourning the deaths of three Marines killed in Afghanistan whose bodies arrived back in the United States over the weekend.
The deaths represent the state's most concentrated losses in that war since four Indiana National Guard soldiers died in a 2005 explosion.
The military said Monday that Lance Cpl. Joshua Birchfield, 24, of Westville and Cpl. Gregory Stultz, 22, of Brazil died Feb. 19 while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan's Helmand province, but released no details on how they died.
Their bodies arrived Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
A third Indiana Marine -- Sgt. Jeremy R. McQueary, 27, of Columbus -- was killed during combat in Afghanistan on Thursday. His body arrived at Dover on Saturday.
McQueary's mother, Deborah Kleinschmidt, said he had previously served in Iraq and had survived two other attacks from homemade bombs before the explosion that killed him. Both times he had been in protected vehicles.
"This time he was on foot patrol," she said.
McQueary is survived by his wife and 5-month-old son. He married his high school sweetheart, Rae, in 2004. The couple's son, Hadley, was just 1 month old when McQueary was deployed to Afghanistan in October.
His family said the Columbus East graduate had always expressed an interest in becoming a Marine. His sister, Rebecca Willison, said he considered a new career in law enforcement but decided to stay in the Marines because it was the right fit for him.
"He felt they were the best of the best," said McQueary's stepfather, Dave Kleinschmidt.
In northwestern Indiana, a sign reading "We Will Miss You Birch -- God Bless" hung outside the Blackhawk Inn in Westville, where Birchfield grew up.
Mike Siddall recalled Birchfield's generous side.
"He's a good ol' country boy -- take the shirt right off his back for you," said Siddall, who fought back tears. "He will never be forgotten."
Bartender Mindy Michaels said the bar was taking donations for an ongoing donation drive Birchfield had started to aid military support organizations.
Stultz, meanwhile, had returned a few months ago to his western Indiana hometown and visited with his Northview High School guidance counselor, Scott McDonald.
"He was out at the school and I talked to him for a bit," McDonald said. "He looked great. He was pretty much the same kid, except for a lot of, `yes sirs' and, `no sirs."'
Stultz reached the state high school wrestling regionals as a senior in 2006.
"He got on the straight and narrow because of wrestling," Northview wrestling coach Dan Mikesell said. "It's something that kept him focused."
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)