DOVER, Del. (AP) – A U.S. soldier killed during protests in Afghanistan had talked with relatives about the backlash over the burning of Qurans at a U.S. military base shortly before he died.
Cpl. T.J. Conrad of Roanoke, Va., who was promoted posthumously to sergeant, was one of two U.S. military police officers killed Thursday by an Afghan soldier amid rising anti-American sentiment over the Quran burnings, which resulted in two more American deaths on Saturday.
The bodies of Conrad and Sgt. Joshua Born, 25, of Niceville, Fla., both assigned to the Army’s Fort Stewart in Georgia, were returned to the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base on Saturday.
Conrad’s oldest sister, Amanda Meland, told The Associated Press he was in good spirits when she and other relatives chatted with him via Skype on Wednesday.
“He was doing good. He had his chin up,” she said. “… He did say that things were starting to get crazy from the backlash.”
Conrad, the father of a 7-month-old baby, deployed to Afghanistan in January. He would have celebrated his 23rd birthday on March 6.
Meland said Conrad’s widow, Holly, was not at the couple’s house when military officials initially came to notify her of his death.
“They had come earlier, but she was not there. She had actually just mailed out his birthday package,” Meland explained.
Conrad was born in Newport News, Va., and was still a toddler when his family moved to Roanoke, where he was a member of the wrestling team at Northside High School. After high school, he joined the Army Reserve, switching a short time later to active duty.
Meland said Conrad wanted to make the military his career, planning to re-enlist and hoping to be stationed at Fort Eustis, Va., to be closer to family. He was also hoping to have another baby.
Conrad’s family has posted a video tribute to him on You Tube.
“We’re very proud of our T.J.,” said his aunt Shannon Lemm. “We want everyone to know his name and see his face.”
Meland described Conrad as a jokester and class clown, always able to bring a laugh to those around him.
“He could barely sit still,” she said. “Even when his wife was in labor, he was doing karate moves in the delivery room.”
“When we Skyped with him Wednesday morning, he was doing the same thing, making all his jokes,” she said.
Meland said the deaths of Conrad and Born, whose relatives also attended Saturday’s casualty return, have left both families devastated.
“You see it on TV, you see it in the movies, but you just never expect it’s going to be your family or your soldier,” she said.
(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)