BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A U.S. Marine who enlisted right after his graduation from John Carroll Catholic High School in Birmingham in 1998 is being remembered for his desire to make a difference in Iraq, where he was on his second tour of duty.

Marine Sgt. Nicholas Walsh, 26, was shot and killed by a sniper Saturday in Fallujah while out on a patrol.

“He was going to be 27 in a month,” said his mother, Donna Correa.

Correa and Walsh’s stepfather, Victor Correa, live in Italy, Texas. Correa is a counselor at the Waxahachie Ninth Grade Academy.

“He was just a lovely person,” his mother said. “Just a good, sweet, gentle human being.”

Walsh was killed while completing his second tour in Operation Iraqi Freedom, his first tour ending in March 2006.

Jerry Walsh, his father and a former INS special agent, and stepmother, Maggie Hall Walsh, reside in Fort Collins, Colo.

“He wanted to be there. He felt like he was doing something good,” his stepmother said. “He used to tell me that nobody talks of the good things going on there, but he saw it in the faces of the people - in their waves and their smiles.

“He was prepared, he was ready to go, he knew the stakes,” she said. “He was a proud Marine.”

Walsh’s wife, Julie, told The Birmingham News on Monday that he called her shortly before he was shot. She said it was not the time he usually called, and that he explained, “I just woke up and couldn’t go back to sleep and felt like I needed to call you.”

“In some strange way,” Julie Walsh said, “someone was trying to give me that last goodbye. He died a couple of hours later.

“I’m just really going to miss him,” she said. “He was a really good husband, and really good dad. He went above and beyond trying to help everybody.”

The couple have two sons, Triston, 4, and Tanner, 7 months.

Service in the Marine Corps is a family tradition, Correa said, saying that her son’s grandfather and uncle were both Marine officers.

Walsh’s grandfather, Walter R. Walsh, lives in Birmingham and recently celebrated his 100th birthday.

Two of Walsh’s cousins are also Marines.

Walsh, who joined the Marines right out of high school, served four years, was out of the service for two years, then re-enlisted.

“He most certainly was (proud to be a Marine), which was why he re-enlisted,” Correa said.

Jerry Walsh went to Dover, Del., on Monday to escort his son’s body to Colorado. A funeral mass is to be held later in the week.

“He was a nice kid that turned into a great man,” Maggie Walsh said. “The biggest thing I want people to know is these kids - and they are kids - they’re not just numbers. They’re somebody’s son, somebody’s daughter, somebody’s husband or wife. They are people who are just doing what they think is right.”

WDL staff writer Anthony Trojan contributed to this report.