"But if you could really get to know Eric, you'd see that he was loud, boisterous and made his point clear," said Ryan Kingston, a friend and fellow firefighter. "He was dependable and so easy to get along with."
The memories, tinged by tears, flooded Wilkus' friends yesterday as they absorbed the news that his name was on the latest casualty lists from the war in Iraq. Wilkus, 20, died Christmas Day in Landstuhl, Germany, from a noncombat-related injury he sustained three days earlier in Baghdad.
Wilkus was a private first class with the Army's 57th Military Police Company, 8th Military Police Brigade, and had been stationed in Korea until he was deployed to Iraq in June.
Military officials yesterday would not release further information about the cause of Wilkus' death, saying the incident is being investigated. According to the Department of Defense, he is one of nearly 3,000 Americans who have died supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, and the 66th soldier with ties to New Jersey to lose his life in the conflict.
How much more of this must go on?