Michael DeFazio thought the military would be good for his youngest child, a quiet boy who suffered from allergies and who followed his dad everywhere while growing up in West Babylon.
Even when Spc. Robert W. DeFazio, 21, was deployed to Afghanistan this month as a member of the 23rd Ordnance Company, the elder DeFazio was not so worried. The terrible headlines were coming out of Iraq, not Afghanistan, he said yesterday.
But on Monday morning, uniformed officers walked up to their small, cream-colored home near the Southern State Parkway and broke the news: The 2002 graduate of West Babylon High was dead in Kandahar, of noncombat-related injuries, according to the Department of Defense.
"I really wasn't expecting this at all - he was only there for two weeks," the father said, as his wife wept and their three other children milled about quietly in the dining room dotted with flower baskets.
An Army spokeswoman, Maj. Elizabeth Robbins, said an initial investigation determined DeFazio's death was caused by a noncombat-related injury.
Family members said they were working with an Army liaison to try to put the pieces together. They were told that Robert DeFazio had been shot and that his body was found Sunday in Kandahar by two British officers in a bunker near an ammunition depot he was guarding.
DeFazio always had an interest in the military, perhaps because his father, an electrician and pharmacy technician, served in the Army for two years during the Vietnam War, family members said. But the younger man's interest in the military intensified after the Sept. 11 attacks, the family said.
Unlike her husband, Jeanine DeFazio was less than enthusiastic when her son brought home Army recruiters from school. He was 17 and needed his parents' signature to join.
"I didn't want to sign the papers, but he said, 'Mom, if you don't sign the papers, I'm just going to sign this in a month,' " she recalled.
A month after graduation, he took off for basic training, which was prolonged because of a bout with pneumonia, the family said. But he stuck with it and was assigned to a base in Miesau, Germany, where he stayed until he left for Afghanistan.
His tour would have been up in July, the father said, but he had spoken of re-enlisting, trying out for Special Forces and making a career in the military.
DeFazio, who had fallen severely ill and had his tonsils removed before departing overseas, had called several times from Afghanistan, chatting with his oldest brother Michael, 25, about wrestling, and reassuring his sister, Jennifer, 27, that he was eating well.
Robert DeFazio had a dry humor and comic timing that would help dissolve sibling fights into laughter, the family said. He was a history buff who could recollect facts and figures and recite not only statistics for his favorite Yankees, but also of opposing teams.
A favorite family pastime is when the men would dress in Yankees and Giants gear - only to head to the living room to cheer the teams on television, Jeanine DeFazio said.
"I didn't like the idea of him going," she said, "but I'm proud of him. If it weren't for him and others like him, we wouldn't have any defense."