Seven years ago, when Adam VanAlstine was 14, he walked into Chuck Horton's gym and boxing school.
"He just fit right in, no matter how hard you told him to work, he could take it, and he could do it, and he'd do everything you said," Horton recalls. "And afterwards the floor was all sweaty and messy and everything, and he goes, 'can I help clean up?', and I'm like 'sure.' And that's the kind of kid that Adam was."
Horton says Adam looked like the comedian Danny Kaye -- curly red hair and all.
"He had these really bright blue eyes. He had that narrow face like Danny Kaye, had a smile, he had the devilment in his eyes. And really a high abundance of energy," according to Horton.
Horton says Adam was more like a dancer than a fighter.
"He was so fast, he could turn on a dime. But his mood never turned. He was always up."
That's the way his older sister describes him too. Jennifer VanAlstine says for a kid who'd had such a tough life, Adam was amazingly cheerful.
"He never met his father. He died before he was born; his mother passed away three years ago; he lost two friends his senior year of high school. But he was always smiling, always watching out for everybody else. He was just, definitely a shining star," she said.
Adam dreamed about joining the Marines ever since the second grade. But he had asthma, so he had to fight to get in.
"So it took him a couple of years of beating down the door, he finally did it," she said. "He wanted to be a Marine, there's no two ways about that."
Jennifer VanAlstine has two young daughters. She says the seven-year-old is confused and hurt.
"When he went over there, she was so proud of him and talking about him all the time at school, and one of her schoolmates said, well he's going to go over there and get killed. So I had to spend quite a bit of time trying convince her that that wasn't going to happen. And then, here I am having to tell her that it did."
Adam VanAlstine stayed in close touch with his family during his time in Iraq. Another sister, Dawn Meyers, is expecting her first child. Adam sent her a hand-made card.
"And then he writes, 'congratulations on the newest member of our family, it makes me so happy to know you're both going to be parents. He or she is the reason why I do what I do without thinking twice about it, so he or she can enjoy the greatest country in world.'"
VanAlstine's body will be returned to Dover Delaware in about 10 days. The family is planning a service in Superior.