Whitpain Township firefighter John N. Kulick called his father from Iraq on Tuesday, before leaving on the mission that would kill him and three other Pennsylvania National Guard soldiers.
With the death Saturday of two other Pennsylvania soldiers, "he was trying to get through to let me know he was OK," his father, Jim Kulick, said.
By yesterday morning, he learned that his 35-year-old son died hours after they had spoken.
Spec. John Kulick, the father of an 9-year-old girl, joined the Pennsylvania National Guard two years ago, spurred by the Sept. 11 attacks, which took the lives of 343 paramedics and firefighters.
At first, John Kulick was "gung-ho" about serving in Iraq, his father said. But during the last six months, he was "really getting concerned about the patrols."
"He was scared to death to go out on the missions because of the antiquated vehicles," Jim Kulick said, adding that his son spoke of driving around in partially armored humvees.
The company was ambushed late Tuesday night as it patrolled Beiji, 155 miles northwest of Baghdad. Details of the insurgent attack were incomplete yesterday. However, Jim Kulick said he was told by the military that his son died in an incident involving a roadside bombing.
When he was home in June on a two-week break, his son "had a feeling he wasn't going to come back," Jim Kulick said.
"We talked about putting everything in order," he said. "We put his will together."
Word of his death shook the small Whitpain Township department, where John Kulick worked as one of four full-time firefighters who supplemented a part-time and volunteer squad.
"I can't even begin to imagine the void," fire marshal David M. Camarda said. "He had a map in his mind of things. He knew the buildings, he knew the town, he made the job his life."
John Kulick grew up in Abington, where, as a child, he would run to the nearby firehouse and watch as the engines left on emergency calls, his father said.
As a teenager, he became a volunteer firefighter in Hatboro. Seven years ago, he joined the Whitpain department. He became an emergency medical technician - skills he would put to use in Iraq as a medic, Jim Kulick said.
It wasn't until the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that John Kulick considered military service. He signed up for the Guard in September 2003, and he was activated nine months later.
"He wanted to fight the terrorists - not here, but over there," Jim Kulick said. "He wanted to keep the terrorism from not only his daughter, but everyone here."
He learned Arabic while in Iraq and talked of wanting Iraqis to enjoy the same freedoms as Americans, his father said.
"He was a great son, a great father, a great fireman," Jim Kulick said.
John Kulick's daughter, Amanda, lives in York County with his ex-wife.
At lunch with Camarda during his June break, John Kulick seemed excited to return to the firehouse when his unit was scheduled to come home in October. "He couldn't wait to get back to work," Camarda said.
But he seemed less than enthusiastic about returning to Iraq for a few months.
"My impression is that he didn't want to go," Camarda said. "But he knew he had to go. Typical John, he did what he had to do."
Distributed by the Associated Press