Dustin Mark Tucker regaled his family with tales of Iraq at his welcome home dinner last week, chuckling about the close call he had with an IED on his birthday.
After months of combat, danger must have seemed remote at that gathering in Kenwood.
But five days later, Tucker was dead, leaving family, friends and the medical community searching for answers.
"He has no family history or personal history of any kind of medical issues," said his mother, Cindy Tucker. "He didn't complain of not feeling well . . . He was happy. He was busy. He was excited for his vacation. He was on top of the world."
Tucker, 22, was home for an 18-day leave, his first since his March deployment as a gunner with the Army's 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas.
He was thrilled to be home, where his family had planned plenty of free time for golf, fishing and other activities.
He was fatigued and jet-lagged after days of traveling from Baghdad to Kuwait, then Ireland, Atlanta and Los Angeles before finally flying into San Francisco and the embrace of his family. Despite the lengthy trip, he seemed ready for some fun, they said.
Since arriving home Aug. 25, he had visited family and friends, played golf, bought a motorcycle and was looking forward to a family fishing trip at Clear Lake this week.
He complained of no pain, discomfort or illness, but did mention being tired Aug. 27 when he decided to hang out with his two brothers rather than go out with friends, Cindy Tucker said.
The three had stayed up late watching movies, so the next morning, brothers Ross, 18, and Garrett, 25, were glad to let Dustin continue sleeping while they went off to play golf.