BROOKSVILLE — Clarence Williams III saw himself in the khaki uniform of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper, just like his dad.
First, though, the 2008 Hernando High School graduate wanted to get out of Brooksville for a while. So he joined the Army, the same branch his father had served in, and became a military police officer.
"He wanted to go out and see the world," said his longtime friend Josh Parnell.
The 23-year-old specialist was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday along with five other Americans when the armored vehicle they were riding in struck a roadside bomb in Wardak province, just south of Kabul. Coalition and Afghan forces are trying to secure areas of Wardak that insurgents use as a gateway to the Afghan capital, where they stage high-profile attacks on Afghan government and NATO targets.
Military officials knocked on the door of the Williams' home at about 5 a.m. Monday to deliver the news, said Clarence Williams Jr., a corporal with the highway patrol.
His son was deployed in February for what was originally supposed to be nine months, but that was later shortened to six months, said Williams Jr.
"He was supposed to be coming home in mid July," he said.
The Department of Defense had not publicly announced his son's death by Monday evening.
The loss localized the pain of a particularly deadly day in Afghanistan on Sunday that claimed seven American troops, 19 Afghan civilians and seven Afghan police officers.
Violence erupted again on Monday as militants launched suicide attacks on two police headquarters and carried out other assaults that left 20 people dead — three police officers, an Afghan prosecutor, two children and 14 attackers, according to officials.
At least 60 other people were wounded.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast that killed the six Americans, including Williams.
By last week, Williams was about five months into his tour and ready to come home, said Parnell, a Division of Forestry firefighter who spoke with his friend regularly on Skype. The experience reaffirmed Williams' decision not to make the Army a career.
"He was seeing people getting shot at, seeing cars getting blown up every day," Parnell said. "He said, 'I'm done.' "
Born in Gainesville, Williams was raised a country boy in Brooksville, friends said. The middle child between sisters Samantha and Abrill, he often sported Wrangler jeans and Justin cowboy boots and spent most of his time in the woods hunting hogs or on the water with a fishing pole in his hand.
Williams earned a reputation as a class clown, but he brought home good grades and knew when to be serious, said Josh Pope, a friend since their days at Brooksville Elementary School.
"He was probably one of the most sincere, compassionate people I've ever met," Pope said. "If you're going through a hard time, he's one of the best people to talk to because you know he's going to give you an honest answer."
Williams sang in the choir at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Brooksville and played football for Hernando High. During high school, he joined the Hernando Sheriff's Office Explorer post, a volunteer program chartered by the Boy Scouts of America and designed to give teens a firsthand look at law enforcement.
Williams completed basic training at Fort Bliss, Texas. While in the Army, the avid weight lifter grew more chiseled and covered his torso in tattoos. The words "U.S. Army" ran down one arm. Wings and a cross were emblazoned on his chest.
"He was a firm believer in Christ," Parnell said, "and he believed that whenever he passed on, he was going to go to heaven."
But he had other plans before that day came. He hoped to graduate next year with a degree in criminal justice from Central Texas College.
One blazing hot morning last summer, Williams and Parnell climbed aboard a johnboat for a fishing trip on Lake Townsen, east of Brooksville. The friends didn't catch anything, but Williams was content just to spend the day talking.
Williams looked forward to celebrating Parnell's 21st birthday. And he couldn't wait to transform his gold 1995 Nissan Pathfinder into a high-rise, mud-bogging masterpiece perched on 38-inch wheels. He had already ordered a muffler, a remote starter and some radio equipment.
His excitement about the truck's maiden ride was apparent from a June 24 Facebook exchange with a friend: lets do it bubba be back real soon lords willin cant wait !!!!
The parts sat in the garage on Monday as his father and his mother, Talisa, received friends and family.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]