Army Pfc. Albert R. Jex, 23, was named for his grandfather and also a great-uncle, Albert Magrum, who died fighting the Nazis in World War II.
The Lockport native wanted to join the military since he was 16 but didn't do so until two years ago.
"At first it was, 'Oh, no,' but as a parent you back your son's decision," said his mother, Cathleen MacFarlane.
Monday, Jex was among four American soldiers and an interpreter killed in a suicide car bombing in Iraq.
"I have a blue star in my window," his mother said. "I guess I have to change it to a gold one now."
Word of Jex's passing stirred shock and sadness in Lockport, where his parents and most of his family still live.
MacFarlane said she and her son spoke about the possibility of his death at Thanksgiving, when Jex came home on leave from Fort Hood, Texas, where he was stationed with the 1st Cavalry Division.
"Albert would have wanted it this way," his mother said. "He said, 'I don't want to come back in parts. If it happens, I want it to go all the way.' "
Jex left for Iraq on Dec. 12 for what was to have been an 18-month deployment, his first. His role was to serve as a bodyguard to a lieutenant colonel, his mother said.
The fatal attack took place as U.S. military vehicles were passing an Iraqi police checkpoint in the northern city of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city and the last major urban battleground in the war against al-Qaida and other Sunni insurgents.
An Iraqi interpreter also was killed in the bombing, the deadliest single attack against U.S. forces in Iraq in nine months.
An Iraqi police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to release the information, said two Iraqi policemen and one civilian were wounded.
Jex's father, Nelson, who is divorced from MacFarlane, said his son moved to Phoenix after leaving Lockport High School and getting his general equivalency diploma in 2003.
Jex was working as a supervising carpenter on housing construction jobs in Arizona but was laid off when the housing market dropped off and decided to follow his dream of joining the Army.
"He loved hunting and fishing, and his GTO," his father said. "He used to drag race that thing near Fort Hood. It was a 130-mile-per-hour machine, a real cruiser."
The Olcott Street neighborhood where Nelson Jex lives is a patriotic one, with every utility pole sporting yellow ribbons and American flags.
Marcia Bucolo, who lives across the street from Nelson Jex, was hard at work Tuesday with her husband, stapling 8 1/2 -by-11-inch photos of Albert on the poles above the yellow ribbons.
"We're just completely devastated over this," said Bucolo, who organizes a neighborhood candlelight vigil every Sept. 11 and changes the ribbons and flags regularly to keep them looking fresh.
Two Army sergeants visited Jex's parents Tuesday to discuss funeral arrangements. No date has been set, since the body must be flown first to the military mortuary at Dover Air Force Base, Del.
Nelson Jex said he's not sure when that would occur.
Other survivors include Jex's stepfather, William MacFarlane; a sister, Nicole James; a stepbrother, James MacFarlane, and stepsister, Mackenzie MacFarlane.
Jex was in the process of divorcing his wife, the former Monica Brenon of Pendleton, and had a girlfriend in Texas, his mother said.
Cathleen MacFarlane, who said she is battling breast cancer for the second time, is a bus driver for Ridge Road Express. The company hosted a Thanksgiving party for Albert in its Junction Road conference room. Nearly 100 people showed up.
Both parents had talked with their son Sunday by telephone and Webcam.
"It was, 'You're too skinny, you need to eat more,' the typical Mom thing," MacFarlane said. "He looked tired. I told him he needed more sleep. He told me he'd been stressed out about some paperwork he had to do."
Displaying a "Welcome Home" banner Tuesday afternoon, she said Albert had been scheduled to come home in August for a leave.
She said she named her son after his grandfather and also after her uncle, Albert Magrum, who died in World War II in February 1945 fighting the Nazis near the French-German border.
American casualties have fallen to some of their lowest levels of the war since thousands of Sunnis abandoned the insurgency, and U.S. and Iraqi forces routed Shiite militias in Baghdad and Basra last spring. Only five of the 16 American service members who died in Iraq last month were killed in action.
At least 4,243 U.S. military members have now died since the Iraq War began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.
Jex is believed to be the 37th person with ties to Western New York to die in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.