Amid the heirloom china, ceramic angels and family pictures in their Boise home, Richard and Wanda Ulbright have set up a makeshift memorial for the son who died in Iraq this month.
Rick Alan Ulbright , 49 , died Aug. 8 at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, from wounds received during a mortar attack, according to the Department of Defense. Ulbright was a civilian special agent assigned to the 33rd Field Investigative Squadron at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
To honor Ulbright, an Eagle Scout and Borah High School graduate, the family has decorated the fireplace hearth with a crisply folded American flag, flowers and a case of medals, including the Bronze Star Ulbright was awarded posthumously.
"He was our rock. We depended on him, " Richard Ulbright said. "We knew we wouldn't have to worry. He said he'd always take care of us."
The Ulbrights returned home last weekend after attending the Aug. 13 funeral service for their son in Maryland. They grieved with Karen Ulbright, Ulbright's wife of more than 20 years, and his two grown daughters, Misty and Brea.
The memorial concluded with the baptism of Ulbright's first grandchild. He had not seen his granddaughter, who was born while he was in Iraq.
A spokesman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigation said Wednesday that Ulbright administered polygraph tests.
Ulbright was scheduled to complete his Iraq assignment and return home in early September , the family said.
"He had a choice. He volunteered for Iraq, " said his mother, Wanda Ulbright. "We are honored that our son felt he was doing this for our country."
Ulbright had retired from active duty with the Air Force in 1998, after a 20-year career that included time on the Aerospace Recovery Squadron, before joining the Air Force Office of Special Investigation. He returned to the Air Force as a civilian employee the same year he left active duty. He revealed few details about his work, his father said, promising to tell the family more after he retired.
"We got cheated, " Richard Ulbright said. "We couldn't wait for the day until he could be free to tell his story. Now we are never going to learn it."
The Ulbright family moved to Boise when Rick was 13 years old. His parents still live in the same home, a butter-yellow house on Rose Hill surrounded by a rainbow of perfectly tended zinnias.
Ulbright attended South Junior High School, graduated from Borah, and went to Boise State University for two years. He joined the Air Force in 1978.
Ulbright was a typical Idaho boy, fishing and camping and playing "rough-house football, " Richard said.
"He was a very outdoorsy person. Camping, hiking, " said Aubrey Buchanan of Paul, who had known Ulbright since junior high.
Buchanan said he and Ulbright shared their first apartment after they graduated from Borah. Neither liked to cook, so they pre-made about 45 cheese-pickle-onion-and-ketchup sandwiches.
Unusual sandwiches aside, Ulbright was a meticulous and ambitious friend, Buchanan said.
"If he said he was going to be somewhere on his part, he was there, " Buchanan said. "And he expected the same out of you."
Ulbright also was devoted to his three sisters. Teresa Zimmer and Sherri Edwards live in Boise; Linda Kaufmann , the oldest, lives in Spokane.
"He drug me everywhere. He was our tower, " said Zimmer, the youngest child. "He was the best for his sisters."
Richard Ulbright said his son dreamed about buying property in the mountains to build a sort of family compound.
"That was his dream, that someday we could all live close together, " he said. "He just loved family."
The family praised Ulbright's patriotism , giving the ultimate sacrifice for his country. Family members are getting by a day at a time, his father said.
"We just keep him in our thoughts, " he said. "He's going to be with us forever."