Kenneth Cross's mother, Elizabeth Cross, describes her son as a good-natured guy who loved children and animals.
"He was full of mischief, from his head clear to his ankles," she says. "He was a very fun-loving person. He had a lot of friends. He still has a lot of friends. We're getting calls from Baghdad, from people who were with him when he died."
The family called him Kenny. He ran track in high school and enjoyed four-wheeling. He had five older brothers and one younger sister.
"Kenny was the only one that dared to move away from his mother," Elizabeth Cross says. "He decided at a young age he wanted to join the Army. I think he was 8 or 9 years old. His grandfather had driven a tank in World War II over in Germany, and Kenny had always said that he wanted to drive a tank."
A very young Iraqi girl had blown him a kiss, and he reached up with his hand and grabbed it. And she just smiled at him.Elizabeth Cross
"Kids change their mind a hundred times before they grow up," Cross says. "But he didn't even tell us that he enlisted in the Army, until after his 18th birthday we found him at the table, signing the final papers with a recruiter."
His parents weren't happy about it, especially because he insisted on being in the infantry. But Kenneth was determined. He took his basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia.
"He didn't have much good to say about basic training, but he made it through with the rest of them," Elizabeth Cross recalls with a laugh. "And then he was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington. And he learned to drive the Stryker tank; in fact he could pretty much take it apart and put it back together all by himself."
Kenneth Cross was in the Middle East for two months. He kept in touch with his family through e-mails, and phone calls complete with web-cams. Elizabeth Cross says he was limited in what he could talk about. But he did share some of his reactions.
"For instance, he described Baghdad as, 'It smelled like taco Tuesday in an outhouse,' Which gives you a pretty good visual."
But there were touching moments too.
"One day last week he was in the hatch of the Stryker tank, going down the street, and a very young Iraqi girl had blown him a kiss, and he reached up with his hand and grabbed it. And she just smiled at him."
Kenneth Cross and his wife, Heidi, were married in April.
"She teaches preschool children," Elizabeth Cross says. "They met and fell in love, and one day he just called and said they were getting married. He knew he was going to be deployed toward the end of the summer, and they decided they were going to get married before he left."
Elizabeth Cross says Heidi and her family are flying to Wisconsin this weekend, to stay until the funeral. She says the military hasn't told her when she can expect her son's body back.