Kansas City, Mo The son of a couple who chronicled his military experiences in columns for The Kansas City Star was among four crewmen killed Wednesday when a Navy helicopter crashed in Italy, his parents said.
Names of the four had not been released by the Navy pending notification of relatives, but the parents of Samuel Patrick Cox, 21, said he was among those who died.
His father, Jody Cox, is a news and sports producer for The Star's Web site, KansasCity.com.
"He's frozen in time for us," the elder Cox said Wednesday night. "He's always going to be 21 with a fabulous smile."
Jody Cox said his son brought wit, an easy smile and a strong sense of duty to his job as an aviation electronics mate.
"He felt he was there to do a job," Jody Cox said. "I'm glad he felt that way. I'm glad he felt like what he did there had value, because otherwise, what's the point?"
Sam Cox was remembered as a driven young man who since grade school had wanted to make a career out of the Navy. He enlisted in 2001, before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
"He read 'The Hunt for Red October' in the fifth grade, and after that it was all Navy," his father said.
Sam Cox grew up in Duluth, Minn., where he lettered in three sports and absorbed history books.
"He was a smart young man," Jody Cox said. "The difference with him after he came back after boot camp and training was that he had really grown up. I was so looking forward to him coming back because he had become a man. I was so proud of him."
During the war, Sam Cox moved cargo -- including humanitarian aid -- into Iraq.
"We were kind of relieved because he made it through all of that" in the Persian Gulf, Jody Cox said. "He was coming home."
Sam Cox was due back home on Sept. 9, his father said. He intended to enroll at the University of Missouri to study electrical engineering on a Navy scholarship, with an eye toward officer training and eventually becoming a jet pilot.
Jody Cox said the family was "on edge all the time" as the nation headed toward war with Iraq. As an expression of their concern, he and his wife, Jo Thornley Cox, started a Web log on KansasCity.com about military families from the area. They invited others to offer their stories about relatives called to military duty.
When major fighting ended, the family's worries cooled somewhat but remained just below the surface.
"Helicopters, they're kind of dangerous," Jody Cox said.
The huge Sea Dragon helicopters Sam Cox was flying in can carry up to 55 troops or up to 16 tons of cargo. Jody Cox said his son's squadron primarily shuttled cargo from ship to shore.
Describing his duties in an e-mail sent to a friend in April, Sam Cox said, "It's about the people. I have dropped off tons of food supplies in cities, and I have seen what needs to be done. ... We know what we are doing is right."