Walnut Creek soldier dies in Iraq

January 2, 2009 6:11:00 PM PST
Army Private Benjamin Tollefson of Concord was the latest Bay Area resident to die in Iraq. The Pentagon said he was killed when insurgents attacked his base on New Year's Eve.

Friday, at Berean Christian High School, where 22-year-old Tollefson graduated in 2005, several alumni played soccer under cloudy skies and remembered him fondly.

"He was such a joy to be around, he was so funny and he was just a great guy and everyone loved him," alumnus Mary Beth Lee said.

Tollefson and his friends were heartbroken when he left for his assignment in Iraq," Lee said.

"We know that he had a little baby and he'd be over there and that he would be leaving her and the kid behind," Lee said.

Tollefson leaves behind his 21-year-old wife Natalie and their 10-month-old son Mack. The fact that Tollefosn will not ever be coming home is still hard for his friends to believe.

"It's just really unreal; the fact that it hasn't been confirmed online it just kind of gives you that hope that it was a mistake," Chrissy Mawhorter said.

Cory Renfro and Colby Heyer had been Tollefson's best friends since the seventh grade. They said Tollefson felt compelled to join the army.

"That's what he wanted to do, that was his calling," Renfro said.

"You never think that it's going to hit this close to home and then it does," Heyer said. "My heart goes out to all the people who have lost soldiers in Iraq."

Gov. Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver said in a statement they were saddened to hear of Tollefson's death, calling him a "true patriot."

A fund has been set up for Tollefson's 10-month-old son Mack James Tollefson at the Kirker Pass Wells Fargo Branch in Clayton.
5431 Clayton Road
Clayton, CA 94517
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