Pfc. Joey Whitener got on the Internet every day in Iraq to check on his newborn son in McDowell County.
His wife, Beth Whitener, was waiting to chat online with her husband Sunday morning when officials from Fort Bragg knocked
on the door of her home in Old Fort. Her husband died in a helicopter crash, they told her.
Joey Whitener, 19, was among the 17 soldiers killed when two Black Hawk helicopters in Mosul, Iraq, crashed Saturday, his
mother-in-law, Susan Yelton, confirmed. The crash was the single worst loss of American lives in Iraq since the war began.
Sunday, the U.S. military was investigating whether ground fire from insurgents caused the crash.
Just two months ago, Whitener had come home for the birth of his son, Tristan. The visit was a surprise to his wife, who
had Tristan on Sept. 13.
"His son was his pride and joy," Beth Whitener said. "The first time they put him in his arms, he cried."
Though Joey Whitener had longed to join the armed forces in his childhood, he did not want to return to Iraq after Tristan
was born, Beth Whitener said.
"He was so happy to be home with his friends and family and his son," she said. "He just didn't want to leave.
He knew it would be six months or longer before he got to come home and see us again."
A member of the Navy JROTC in high school, Whitener had hoped the military could help him become a doctor, said Ruth Fortune,
Whitener's foster mother. Because Whitener finished high school with a home-school diploma, he could not get into the Navy,
Fortune said, so he joined the Army.
Fortune described Whitener as a kindhearted, respectful young man. He came to visit Fortune and her husband after his son's
"He was so proud of that baby," Fortune said. "When he started to leave, he gave me a big hug and told me he loved me."
At the end of 2002, Whitener finished basic training and returned to McDowell County, where Beth was waiting. They had
recently rekindled a romance that had ebbed and flowed for about 4 1/2 years, Beth Whitener said. She was 16 when he proposed
to her, and two weeks later, on Dec. 21, they got married.
They moved to Fort Campbell, where Joey Whitener was a member of the 101st Airborne Division. Since his March deployment
to Iraq, Beth Whitener lived in McDowell County with her mother.
After Tristan's birth, the Whiteners developed a family life around the computer. Beth Whitener e-mailed photos to her
husband, chatted with him and used a Web cam to show him his son.
"I would turn on Web cam and let him see Tristan," Beth Whitener said. "He would just sit there and cry."
Yelton said the family plans to bury Whitener in McDowell County.
Since the war in Iraq began, 417 Americans have died there. A member of a Western North Carolina National Guard company
died in August in an explosion in Baghdad. That soldier, Staff Sgt. Bobby Franklin, was based out of Murphy and lived in Mineral
The Associated Press contributed to this report.