updated 12/12/2005 12:57:14 AM ET 2005-12-12T05:57:14

The Christmas card arrived first, followed a few hours later by the military officers.

“All I have to say is how much I love you and will be glad to see you in January,” Army Sgt. Michael C. Taylor wrote to his mother from Iraq. “I wish you a very merry Christmas.”

Stephanie Taylor Tompkins got the card on Wednesday, shortly before Army officers brought her family the news that an improvised bomb had exploded in Balad, Iraq, that day, killing her 23-year-old son, a young man whose family once called him “Little Mickey.”

Taylor had become a father and was a devout Christian who loved reading mysteries and thrillers and was looking forward to restoring a 1969 Chevelle when he got home, said his brother, Justin Lee Taylor, 24.

Instead, Justin will be restoring the Chevelle alone, as a way to remember his brother.

“I was really looking forward to working on that car with him,” he told the Houston Chronicle. “But I know he’s going to love looking down from heaven and seeing that car finished.”

Taylor left a wife, Dusti, and 3-year-old daughter, Sadie Odessa, who was named for her grandmother. He also left a large extended family in mourning.

“This is a very, very close family and that was very important to him,” Taylor’s stepfather, Curtis Tompkins, said. “The best part of his day over there was mail call, even though we all corresponded by e-mail.”

Taylor joined the Army in July 2001 and recently was promoted to sergeant. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 13th Field Artillery, 214th Field Artillery Brigade, III Corps Artillery at Fort Sill, Okla.

His mother was unable to speak about her son’s death, but she wanted people to know that he was doing his duty by serving in Iraq, Tompkins said.

Relatives said the family was still struggling with the death of Taylor’s father, David Lee Taylor, in a car accident two years ago.

“Michael told me that he believed Daddy was over there (in Iraq) with him. He really believed that,” said his sister, Davina Taylor, 21.

Davina still hadn’t opened the Christmas card from her brother.

“I don’t know when I will open mine,” she said, holding the red envelope. “The time will come when it’s right for me.”

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