THOMSON --- Sgt. James Kinlow was a people person.
His wife was fully aware of that, having known him for half of her life but it wasn't until he died that she fully appreciated how extroverted he was.
"I got calls from people I didn't even know about," Daphanie Kinlow said. "They knew all about me and the kids through him."
Kinlow certainly had plenty of opportunity to spread stories about his family.
He enlisted in the Army National Guard after graduating from Lincolnton High School in 1989 and traveled around the country on various assignments. His skills as a commercial truck driver were put to use transporting soldiers and supplies to areas struck by natural disasters.
There was an element of patriotism to his decision to join the Guard, but it was more a chance to take care of his family with a steady job. That drastically changed after the Sept. 11 attacks.
"His whole attitude changed about the nation's defense," Daphanie said.
As the war in Iraq grew in momentum, it seemed more likely that Kinlow and his unit would be sent there. Daphanie gave him all her support and never voiced her concerns.
"We learned to live with it because that was a choice we made," she said.
His unit, 2nd Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment out of Albany, Ga., deployed to Iraq on May 15, 2005. He was killed two months later when a makeshift bomb exploded near his Humvee while he was on patrol in Baghdad.
KINLOW WAS born and raised in Lincolnton, Ga., and even at an early age he was the prankster among his friends. His sister, Sophia Kinlow, describes him as "fun, lovable and crazy -- in a good way."
He would often joke, "I'm not a peach, I ain't a plum, I'm a Kinlow," playing on the similar sound of his last name and cantaloupe.
He loved food and eating, especially his mom's meatloaf, Sophia said.
Sports were also a big part of his life. After they got married, Daphanie said, he kept the TV in their bedroom constantly tuned to SportsCenter on ESPN.
"(He'd) keep it on just in case somehow something changed," she said, shaking her head.
The two were high school sweethearts; he was a junior, she was a sophomore. Her father was a Pentecostal preacher, and she was lucky her parents let her date at age 15. Not that there was much to do in Lincolnton besides attend proms and football games and eat ice cream at the tiny Tastee Freeze.
She liked his sense of humor, his respect for women and the manners drilled into him by his parents. It also didn't hurt that he was easy on the eyes. He was her first and only boyfriend, Daphanie said.
Their love was rooted in friendship and the experiences they shared as they grew up together, she said.
"We basically raised ourselves," she said.
Friendship was the constant theme of their relationship until its tragic end. The last bouquet of flowers Kinlow sent his wife had 11 red flowers to express his love and a yellow rose, to signify friendship.
ONE OF THE THINGS they hoped to do more was travel, which the family enjoyed. The destination didn't matter as long as it was someplace hot.
Daphanie recalled one memorable vacation to Hilton Head Island. A small alligator walked by their hotel room and her husband scooted the family inside and blocked the door to protect them.
"You could see he was scared too," Daphanie said, laughing.
They had planned to do some traveling abroad when she retired after putting in 30 years with the McDuffie County school system.
Daphanie said her faith has helped ease some of the pain.
"God just gives you a grace to get through these things, even if you don't remember it," Kinlow said.