Friends and family are remembering U.S. Army Spc. Samuel Watts as a fearless young man who long wanted to join the military and serve his country.
Watts, 20, died Saturday from injuries he sustained last month from a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
He graduated from Wheaton North High School in 2010 and enlisted in the Army that summer. He trained at Fort Benning, Ga., and was deployed to Afghanistan early this year with the 82nd Airborne Division.
When his unit was hit April 25 in the Zharay district of the Kandahar province, the explosive instantly killed one other serviceman and injured a handful of others, including Watts.
Family friends said Watts initially was taken to Germany for medical care and then flown to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland, where he died.
Wendy Biggs, Watts' guidance counselor at Wheaton North, said he wanted to join the military all through high school.
"When we talked about what his goals were for after high school, joining the Army was definitely at the top of his list," Biggs said.
The last time Biggs and Watts spoke was on the day he graduated. By that point, he already had enlisted.
"This is something that he absolutely wanted to do," Biggs said. "He has a deep love for this country and wanted to serve this country."
In addition to his military aspirations, Watts was interested in becoming a paramedic and participated in the fire science program for two years at the Technology Center of DuPage in Addison.
Kathy Rosenwinkle, a spokeswoman for the center, attended the same church as Watts and his family, St. John Lutheran in Wheaton.
"He was just a very fearless young man and very secure in himself," Rosenwinkle said.
She recalled a ceremony held three years ago at the center to remember the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Watts' instructors chose him to place a wreath at the base of a flagpole and Rosenwinkle said he approached the duty with a somberness beyond his years.
"He understood why we were there, and he took it very seriously," she said. "The gravity of this hit him in a heavier way than it did with other kids."
Friends, family and even former classmates took to the Internet to share their grief and condolences as they await news of funeral services.
"I didn't know him well, but I still remember when he received an esteemed award at our senior honors assembly for being a true patriot and someone who would dedicate his life to his country ... I had goose bumps as he walked up to the stage. His bravery and ultimate sacrifice will never be forgotten," said former classmate Katina Bolos on a social media page.
Faculty members at Wheaton North learned of Watts' death Monday.
"We are trying to figure out how much and how we want to honor him," Biggs said. "That is based on what the parents want."
Rosenwinkle said the pastor at St. John has been in regular contact with the Watts family and awaits word on funeral arrangements so he can share the details with church members.