Shakopee, Minn. — Edward James Herrgott went by the name Jim. He had just turned 20 and was well into an ambitious plan to better himself and assist the nation through a four-year enlistment in the military. He would help with the war on terrorism, all the while earning money he needed to pursue a career in law enforcement. It all came to an abrupt end for Jim Herrgott July 3 in Baghdad.
"He knew the dangers," said Jim's uncle, Ken Kewatt. He and his wife, Mary, live in Shakopee and watched Jim grow up with one of their sons, T.J., who was the same age.
"Twenty-four hours before Jim was killed, we knew that the area he was going to was extremely bad," Mary Kewatt said.
Ken and Mary had been paying close attention to the situation in Iraq because, like their nephew Jim, their son T.J. was also deployed in Baghdad.
"They needed him and he was going and that's what he told his mom. 'They need me over there, there's 12 other guys that got wounded, so this is what I'm doing.' And the last thing that was said was just keep your head down and keep it in that tank so you're safe," she said.
"He was outside the national museum in his Bradley tank and he was doing his watch as guard duty. He had slid up into the gunner's seat -- the gunner's hatch -- and a sniper got him in the neck. From reports that we heard, he was rushed to the hospital but they wre unable to keep him alive," Ken Kewatt said.
We have some issues with the fact that President Bush declared combat over on May 1. Combat is not over. We don't even know who's firing at us right now and all of our soldiers are at great risk of being picked off as Jim was. And that's a shame. And then President Bush made a comment a week ago and he said 'bring it on.' Well they brought it on and now my nephew is dead.
Jim's parents, overwhelmed with grief, have largely avoided the media.
Friends and extended family say Jim was fun-loving, adventurous, respectful, but not always someone who followed all the rules. He loved NASCAR racing and hanging out with his friends.
One of those friends, Dawn Vohnoutka, grew up with Herrgott and graduated from Shakopee High School with Jim two years ago. Vohnoutka remembers bus rides together, e-mail chats, and trips to the movies. For her war has never hit so close to home.
"People just should know he was a good kid. He was doing what he was over there to do. I mean it shouldn't have happened but ... it's shocking," she said.
Jim Herrgott was not necessarily well known around Shakopee. He was not a star high school athlete, nor was he celebrated for his academic achievements.
His friends and family say he was just a regular kid who was in the midst of an important transition from a bumpy -- sometimes wild -- adolescence to what everyone hoped would be a more stable and responsible adulthood.
Ken and Mary Kewatt lowered their flag to half staff early the morning of July 4, the day they heard about their nephew's death.
"He was doing the honorable thing, along with trying to take care of what he wanted to do in life," Ken said. "Why did he join? There's so many reasons why he probably did. One of them ... was just to straighten out his life."
His aunt, Mary, says Americans could best honor her nephew by recognizing the threats U.S. troops continue to face in Iraq.
"We have some issues with the fact that President Bush declared combat over on May 1. Combat is not over. We don't even know who's firing at us right now, and all of our soldiers are at great risk of being picked off as Jim was. And that's a shame. And then President Bush made a comment a week ago, and he said, 'bring it on.' They brought it on and now my nephew is dead."
A memorial to Shakopee's war dead sits in a park near the edge of town. The granite monument contains the names of 45 soldiers from Shakopee who have fallen since the Civil War.
Local American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars leaders say they can't remember when the last name was inscribed on the monument. PFC Edward James Herrgott will be number 46.