It was 9:30 a.m. on Oct. 21 when someone knocked on Lori and Greg Coumas' front door.
"I thought Greg had sent me flowers," Lori said. "It was my birthday."
Instead it was two people in uniform. One was Lodi Police Chaplain Chris Guadiz; the other was a master sergeant from the National Guard.
She knew why they were there.
"I don't think I closed the door when I asked if Kyle had been killed," Lori said.
They didn't answer her question; they wanted her to sit down first.
She didn't sit down. She wanted to know right away, so they told her — that her son, Kyle Coumas, 22, was killed in action in Afghanistan. She described her feelings at the time as "numb."
Kyle, the Coumases' only child, was killed when the vehicle he was driving was attacked by an improvised explosive device in the province of Kandahar. His mother said that Kyle wasn't killed instantly in the blast; he died on a helicopter on the way to a hospital.
Lori and Greg Coumas talked for two-and-a-half hours on Tuesday about their son's life and dreams, and how they are coping with losing him.
"I miss him so much I can't stand it," Greg said.
However, being in the Army — especially the infantry — was exactly what Kyle wanted to do, his father said.
Being in harm's way is not what Kyle's parents wanted for him. Greg wanted him to go to college first before joining the Army. But since Kyle insisted on enlisting after a brief stay at San Joaquin Delta College, Greg was delighted that Kyle's service was limited to processing mail to the 4,000 soldiers in Afghanistan.
Kyle wasn't. He wanted something more meaningful, like being in combat.
"I had a plan for him that was different from what his calling was," Greg lamented.
Looking back, he said, "I can't express enough how proud of him I am."
If there was anything worse than learning that her son was dead, it was Lori having to tell first her husband, and then Kyle's grandparents.
Greg, a truck driver for Cherokee Freight Lines, was driving his truck the morning of Oct. 21. He was still in the Lodi area when his wife called.
"She said, 'You need to come home. Kyle was killed today.'"
Then they had to tell Lori's parents in Manteca and Greg's mother in Lodi. It was anguishing.
Greg sighed and told his wife Tuesday, "I never got you a birthday card."
Lori replied, "That's quite all right."
It was already a tough year for the Coumas family when they learned that Kyle was killed. Greg worked almost 20 years at Chase Chevrolet in Stockton, the last five as parts department manager, when he was laid off on Dec. 29.
He was unemployed until getting the truck-driving job in July. He had driven a truck professionally from 1976 to 1982, so he had a fallback career.
A 2005 graduate of St. Mary's High School in Stockton, Kyle Coumas began his tour of active duty in February 2007 and was assigned to Fort Lewis, Wash. He was deployed to Afghanistan in July. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
In letters to his parents from Afghanistan, Kyle continually told his parents to not worry about him because he was safe. However, his parents were still concerned.
"He let things slip through that he saw some (violent) action," Greg said.
In one incident, for example, Kyle was deaf for an hour or two, his father added.
Another difficult time came when two of Kyle's letters arrived at the Coumas home after he died. They let the letters sit on the kitchen counter for a while before taking a deep breath and opening them.
"We had a good cry before we would open them," Lori said.
As it turned out, it was good to open the letters because Kyle was so upbeat, she said.
Then came the day Kyle's body was flown home, and his parents had to decide whether to look at Kyle during visitation at Cherokee Memorial Funeral Home. They had different reactions.
"It was hard seeing him because the reality is a slap in the face," Lori said.
Greg said, "I wanted to see him. I kept hoping the Army had made a mistake. To see him, it put all of it to a rest."
Born Aug. 24, 1987, in Tracy, Kyle was named after a character in the first "Terminator" movie who was played by Michael Biehn.
"We loved that character," Greg said.
Lori added, "We were thinking of naming him after Greg's father, but his name was Cornelius."
As a child, Kyle was quick to give hugs, Lori recalls. He was very sensitive to other people's needs, she said.
The Coumases saw Kyle for the last time in June, when he was on two weeks leave before heading to Afghanistan. His parents hosted a pre-deployment party.
Lori and Michael Gregory Coumas grew up living in the same Manteca apartment complex, but they didn't know each other. They attended different high schools, with Lori attending Manteca High and Greg graduating from East Union.
They met at a barbecue in August 1982 and got married three years later. They lived in Stockton until moving to Lockeford in 1989. The Coumases were the third family to move into The Bluffs subdivision on the east end of town.
The Coumases said they are grateful for the outpouring of support from their families, friends and complete strangers. They said they were gratified that so many people waved American flags and showed their support during the Nov. 3 funeral procession along Victor Road, Highway 88 and Highway 12 from Lodi to Wilseyville, a small Calaveras County town at the 3,000-foot level.
Kyle was buried at Lori Coumas' family plot in Wilseyville. When Lori and Greg Coumas die, they will be buried along each side of Kyle.
Other acts of compassion the couple cited: a moment of silence at a St. Mary's football game, a special Mass at St. Mary's, and Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Pleasanton, arranging for the flag over the U.S. Capitol to be flown at half-staff in Kyle's honor and then delivering the actual flag to them.
The Coumases said it is therapeutic to talk about Kyle; it's worse when they are alone and have no one with whom to share his life.
The couple plans to adopt Kyle's Army squad of 12 soldiers by sending cookies, movies, socks, T-shirts, boots and other necessities.
Three weeks after Kyle's death, his parents say they will see him in heaven some day.
"It's more that we miss him, but it's not that we lost him," Lori said.
Letter from Kyle Coumas' parents to fallen sonNov. 2, 2009
How is it possible that God would give two ordinary people a son like you to raise? It was an incredibly gutsy move on His part, considering, had it been up to us, you never would have stepped out the front door without first being enveloped in bubble wrap and a helmet. He must have been shaking his head and smiling at our naiveté, for little did we know that He had given us a hero to raise.
Our goal was to teach you to be your own person, to think for yourself, to decide what kind of person you wanted to be and to go for it. Admittedly, however, when you became your own person, we didn't like it as much as we thought we would. At least, not at first.
Despite all our efforts to steer you in the direction we wanted for you, you chose your own path. We wanted you safe and secure. You needed to make sure everyone else was safe and secure. And, by doing so, you far exceeded any and all of our expectations.
You always were stubborn when it came to doing what you knew to be the right thing. Do you remember when Granny was in the hospital with a broken leg? You were 9 years old when the nurse escorted you by the hand and led you out of the room. That lasted all of three seconds before you quietly slipped back in, took Granny's hand and told her "everything was going to be all right," even as the doctor was setting the broken bone.
The level of trust you had in us as parents was endearing at times and terrifying at others. Such as the time you and Joe were tearing through the house … again … and you both ran right through the sliding screen door and landed on the patio. When Joe solemnly pulled out his allowance and offered to pay for a new door, you simply told him it wasn't necessary because "Dad can fix anything."
Or when you called out to us in the middle of the night because you could hear airplanes flying around in your bedroom closet. You weren't frightened; you were simply fascinated and in awe. Perhaps this is a good time to confess that the sound you heard wasn't really airplanes doing loop to loops, but the washer and dryer in the laundry room on the other side of the wall.
The first time we put you on an airplane all by yourself to fly to Portland for a camping trip with your cousins, you were packed and ready to go days before the trip. The thought of something going wrong during the flight and even while you were away from home probably never entered your mind. On the other hand, we were white-knuckled and guzzling coffee as the minutes slowly ticked by until we knew you'd landed safely and were in good hands.
As parents, we tried to teach you life's lessons and to avoid our own perceived mistakes. Such as Dad's embarrassing tale of when he had Yosemite Sam tattooed on his shoulder. You assured him that you completely understood his folly … it would have been better if he'd gotten Buggs Bunny instead.
But even as we were teaching you, we were learning from you as well. We learned that having you sit on our lap as we read stories was far more rewarding than watching television. That giving hugs feels just as good as receiving them … that saying "I love you" is much easier than saying nothing at all. We've learned that as a boy, you wished to please us; as a man, you believed in duty and responsibility.
The day you left home and set out on your own path, we learned it was possible to mourn the loss of our little boy while, at the same time, revel in the man you had become.
Lately, however, our lessons have become more difficult. We've learned never to look at a soldier on a plane again and assume he or she is on leave. It's quite possible they are escorting a soldier's loved ones to Dover, Del., to receive their own fallen hero. We've learned that we live in a community overflowing with people who honor and respect our warriors and their sacrifices; people who selflessly hold your parents and loved ones in their thoughts and prayers. And we've learned the difficulty of having to say goodbye too soon.
We hurt at the realization that there will be no more letters or phone calls asking for Grandma's cookies, gaming magazines and socks. Yet knowing how strongly you believed in your mission, our hearts and minds are bursting with pride in the knowledge that you were not only willing to step up to the challenge, but did so with honor and dignity.
We love you, Kyle, and we miss you. Be at peace and we'll see you soon.
Mom & Dad