Army Sgt. Robert "Bobby" Rapp of Sonora was killed by a suicide bomber in Afghanistan, the military announced Wednesday.
Rapp, 22, was four weeks from the end of his deployment when the bomber drove a car laden with explosives into the gates of an Afghan government building he was guarding Monday, said his mother, Jennifer Rapp.
He was the 23rd person from the Northern San Joaquin Valley and nearby Sierra foothills to die in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003.
The two most recent were the only ones from Tuolumne County -- Rapp and Army Sgt. Matthew L. Tallman, 30, of Groveland, who died in August in Multaka, Iraq.
Rapp, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, enlisted after graduating from Sonora High School in 2004 as a response to the Sept. 11 attacks, his mother said. He spent four months in Iraq in 2005.
"He said, 'Never again on our soil,' " Jennifer Rapp said. "He felt that he was working to protect America and help the people in those countries."
The attack happened in the Sabari District of Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan and southeast of the capital city of Kabul.
The bomber also killed Spc. Steven R. Koch, 23, of Milltown, N.J. He and Rapp were part of the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne, based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
A statement from the division said the soldiers died "of wounds suffered during combat operations." A division representative could not be reached for details Wednesday evening.
Two service members went to the Sonora home of Jennifer and Ted Rapp on Monday evening to break the news about their son.
"They knocked and I opened the door and I saw the military people there," Ted Rapp said. "That was the most horrible thing that can happen to you."
The Rapps recalled a son who had a love of country, a generous heart, an aptitude for sports -- and a mischievous streak.
"He was a pretty classic teen-ager," said his mother, a nurse at Sonora Regional Medical Center. "He was a rascal. Freshman year in high school, he ground up Ex-Lax, put it in his friend's sandwich and was promptly suspended."
Bobby Rapp was on the Sonora High School wrestling and cross country teams and on a race team at Dodge Ridge ski area from age 5 to 14. He also enjoyed hunting and golf.
"He was a giving person," said his father, an ultrasound technologist at Memorial Medical Center in Modesto.
"No matter where in the world he was, he would always send his mother flowers for Mother's Day and her birthday and Christmas."
He also was close to his older brother, Patrick Rapp, his parents said.
Bobby Rapp was deployed to Afghanistan in January 2007. His mother said he could not tell her details about his work, but she did know that he was helping to train Afghan police and to bring food and other supplies to the people there.
Longtime friend Jena Anderson of Sonora said Rapp showed his generosity in Afghanistan, an impoverished country that harbored the Sept. 11 terrorists.
"The men treat the girls terribly over there, so when (the troops) gave away stuff, he would give some to the girls," she said.
Anderson knew Rapp from the time she was a baby, because his mother was her day-care provider.
"Bobby had the biggest heart," she said. "He was very outgoing. He was very generous and he loved people."
Rapp had not decided whether to re-enlist when his five-year commitment ended next year, his mother said. He hoped to eventually study kinesiology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, then return to Sonora to work as a physical therapist, she said.
Rapp knew the dangers in Afghanistan. Last year, he gave his family written instructions for his funeral, including a ceremonial rifle volley and playing of the rock classic "Stairway to Heaven."
"Let the world know I died doing what I love," he wrote, "and dying for my country is the greatest honor I could ever receive."
The sergeant's remains will be flown early next week to the airport in Columbia or Modesto, his father said. The family is planning a service later next week -- a public event, as he wished.
"He wanted everyone to be there," his father said, "and he wanted us to throw a party for his guys at Fort Bragg."
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2385.