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He loved Canada, but died in Iraq fighting for the United States.

Corporal Bernard Gooden, a 22-year-old tank gunner with the U.S. Marines, is the first Canadian to be killed in combat in the war to oust Saddam Hussein.

The 5-foot-4 marine, who immigrated to the Toronto area from Jamaica in 1997, was killed in a gun battle in central Iraq on Friday.

"All I'm hearing now in my head is: 'Your son Brent is dead. Brent is dead.' That's all I hear. 'Brent is dead,' " his mother, Carmen Palmer, said yesterday. "It keeps repeating, repeating itself. 'He's died in combat, Ma'am. He's died in combat.' "

Although there are Canadian soldiers in harm's way in Iraq and on warships in the Persian Gulf, Cpl. Gooden - who had served as a Canadian Forces reservist - had joined the U.S. Marines in June, 2001.

His girlfriend, Elizabeth Knox, who met Cpl. Gooden during her first week at York University in Toronto, said they stayed up countless nights watching war movies in their residence room. But she insists he wasn't a warrior type.

"He loved those movies, but he was so soft," she said. "He didn't go in [to the Marine Corps]wanting to fight."

While based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Cpl. Gooden drove back to Toronto last summer to take his oath of citizenship. "He just always loved Canadian life," Ms. Knox said.

Cpl. Gooden's mother, who was told on Sunday that her son had died, spoke warmly about how much he loved being a marine. He felt so safe in his tank that he called it his home, she said.

The family plans to hold a memorial service and bury Cpl. Gooden at a banana and coffee plantation in Jamaica, where he played soldier games as a child.

Cpl. Gooden left Jamaica at 16 to live with his father - Bernard Sr. - in Whitby, Ont., and seek a good education. He went to high school in Whitby, studied general arts at Centennial College from 1998 to 2000, when he went to York to study political science. He stayed there just one year.

Mr. Gooden, who has been a maintenance worker at York University for 25 years, said one of his son's professors, Radhakrishnan Persaud, once approached him and asked if the student with his name was his son. "He said he's really good," Mr. Gooden said. "I was really proud of him."

Mr. Gooden said his son had a slender build, so he was pleased when Cpl. Gooden decided to join the Canadian Forces. "He put on some weight," he said, proudly. Every second Thursday a bus picked up Cpl. Gooden for the ride to Kingston, where he spent the weekend training.

He showed his father photos of himself building bridges, waterskiing and running in the bush toting his gun. The Canadian Forces paid him a small salary, "but not anything to speak of," Mr. Gooden said. Cpl. Gooden scraped together extra money working at a grocery store.

Mr. Gooden said his son was "always a gentleman," and regularly attended his family's Pentecostal church in Toronto's west end.

While at York, the school was hit by a strike. To pass the time, Cpl. Gooden went to stay in Mount Vernon, N.Y., with his mother. Before long, he told his father he would not be returning to York.

"I said, 'Man, you could just hold on and see what happens with the strike,' " Mr. Gooden recalled. "He said, 'No, I'm not going back to university.' And that was the last time I talked to him."

He said Ms. Palmer changed her phone number. "We fought because he wanted to go to the U.S. It wasn't the last talk I wanted to have with my son."

Mr. Gooden said he did not know his son had joined the marines until his sister told him on Monday that Cpl. Gooden had been killed.

"My head was spinning around," Mr. Gooden said. "I didn't want him to lose his life so young. . . . He is my first son. I gave him my name."

Ms. Palmer said Cpl. Gooden had been excited to go to the Middle East, but once there wrote letters home describing the experience as "horrible." She sent him a package including cheese, crackers and other goodies.

Through tears, she said yesterday that just days before he was killed, she had received a thank-you letter from him.

With reports by Tara Perkins and Associated Press