ST. PETERSBURG — After three tours of duty in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, David Thomas' sister was ready for him to come home.
And that was before an ambush last week that killed two members of his Army unit.
"I just asked him to come home," Donna Butler recalled Wednesday. "I didn't think it was worth it, putting his life on the line."
In a June 24 e-mail, he told her not to worry. She never heard from him again.
On Sunday, her worst fears came true: Spc. David W. Thomas Sr. was killed in another ambush.
Spc. Thomas, 40, served in Konar, Afghanistan, with the 22nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), based in Fort Campbell, Ky. He had been overseas since January. Staff Sgt. Eric B. Shaw of Maine also was killed in the ambush.
He loved the military so much he served in three branches, Butler said. First the Navy, then the Marines, finally the Army.
"He tried civilian life, but it just wasn't for him," said Butler of Sarasota.
Spc. Thomas was also a loving father who liked to play ball with his children, said his mother, Mary Thomas. He had two sons and two daughters — David Jr., 19, Cheyenne, 13, Jayden, 6, and Imani, 3 — and a stepson, Basheer, 13.
His own father served in the Navy and Spc. Thomas couldn't wait to join. He signed up a week after graduating from high school, but quit after three years because he wasn't happy where he was stationed. After a few years as a civilian, he joined the Marines. He loved it, and did three tours in Iraq. Then he became a recruiter in Connecticut.
"He couldn't handle sending young guys over there and the mothers and fathers calling him later and saying so-and-so had passed," Butler said. "I think that bothered him a lot."
So he quit. This time, his sister thought his military career was over for good. He moved to St. Petersburg and the two grew closer. Then he told her he was thinking of joining the Army. She tried to talk him out of it, but "he snuck behind my back. He didn't let me know he went to the recruiter." He shipped out to Fort Campbell in August.
Spc. Thomas was intent on serving 20 years in uniform. Before his father, Irving, died a couple of years ago, he told Spc. Thomas, Butler and their brother, Kennedy, that he wanted at least one of them to retire from the military.
All three served in the Navy. Kennedy Thomas recently retired after 20 years, fulfilling his father's wish. Spc. Thomas didn't want his little brother to be the only one to serve 20 years, but he still had five years to go.
While in Afghanistan, Spc. Thomas spoke frequently with family members, e-mailing often and calling when possible. Not knowing if he could call home Monday on his mother's 66th birthday, he asked his wife to wish her a happy birthday for him.
"He doesn't ever miss me on my birthday," Mary Thomas said.
Spc. Thomas will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Funeral arrangements are still being made. His remains were returned Tuesday to Philadelphia, where his wife, Latoya, children and brother paid their respects.
Both Spec. Thomas and Staff Sgt. Shaw will be honored at a memorial service at Fort Campbell on July 21.
Sara Gregory can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.