ALAMEDA -- A shadow of uneasiness fell upon Stephanie Fisher that night as she talked with her son while he prepared to leave for Afghanistan on his third combat tour.
"I felt the worst kind of dread," Fisher said. "It was deep and dark and all-consuming. I told him, 'Just say you can't go right now.' He said, 'Mom, I have the same feeling as you.'"
Tom Fogarty tried to reassure his mother everything would be OK.
"'I'm counting on you,' he told me, 'You're tougher than this,' " Fisher recalled on a recent afternoon after she lifted the lid of the small wooden box that Fogarty's fellow soldiers sent her shortly after he was killed in action on May 6, 2012.
Fogarty's dog tags and a tin of Skoal chewing tobacco were in the box. Bullet casings from a rifle volley that soldiers fired during his memorial service in Afghanistan were also inside. Included, too, was Fogarty's helmet strap with "A POS" written on it, an abbreviation of his blood type.
The grief of Fogarty's family cuts so deep they know it will always remain, despite their fierce pride in his military service. But it's especially bittersweet this month, the anniversary of his death. They share those feelings with countless military families as the Bay Area and the nation prepare to mark Memorial Day on Monday.
"He wasn't just my son," said Fogarty's father, also named Tom. "He was my friend. I knew him as a little boy, and I knew him as a man."
Among those the 30-year-old Fogarty left behind are his wife, Vanessa, and his two children, Kellan, 6, and Caden, 4. The boys live with their grandmother on Bay Farm Island and sleep in what was once their father's bedroom. Fogarty spent his entire life in Alameda until he joined the Army in January 2004.
"He was a Bay Farm kid," said his father, a delivery driver. "He went through his rebellious period. Sometimes he would cause trouble, but he settled down."
After graduating Island High School, Fogarty worked at a Subway sandwich shop and for Commodore cruises as a dishwasher. The 9/11 attacks and watching news coverage of the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq affected him, his mother said.
"I remember he came through the front door one day and said, 'Mom, I think I'm going to join the Army. What do you think?' " Fisher said.
She had mixed feelings about her son's decision, she said. His father stressed to Fogarty that he would end up in combat if he enlisted. Fogarty served his first tour in Iraq in 2005. His second tour began the following year.
"When he came home, he was changed," his father said. "He was more mature and more quiet."
Fogarty worked as an Army recruiter in Huntington Beach before he left for Afghanistan in April last year.
"I was afraid every time he deployed," his mother said. "I had to live with that. I told myself that I would not know what to do if he was killed. I could not even go there."
His father, Tom Fogarty, was walking through South Shore Center when he received the call on his cell phone, saying two soldiers wearing dress uniforms were looking for him. One was carrying a Bible.
"I knew right then what happened, before I even met them," Fogarty said.
Fisher said she felt weak. "It was like the air went out of me," she said. "I remember feeling as if I was going to pass out."
Their son was leading a four-man patrol in Ahmad Kheyl in Paktia Province when the enemy attacked with a roadside bomb, the military said. The blast blew the 6-foot-1-inch tall Fogarty from the vehicle. Another soldier who was with Fogarty, Chance Cleary, of North Carolina, was critically injured. He has no memory of what happened, his parents told Fogarty's family.
At the time of his death, Fogarty was a staff sergeant assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) of the 25th Infantry Division. His family flew to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware so they could be on hand when his remains reached the United States. Fogarty's flag-draped casket was the first off the aircraft, his mother said. Three caskets followed it.
Hundreds turned out for Fogarty's memorial at Kofman Auditorium in Historic Alameda High School. Just before his body was carried up the steps into the building, a Huey helicopter swept low over Central Avenue. A soldier stood on the landing gear, saluting. Later there was a firing party, and a bugler played taps.
"I have my good days and my bad days," Fogarty's father said. "It's been really hard."
Rory Fogarty, 32, the soldier's brother, said he thinks of him daily. "I am coming to terms with it," he said. "He was out there doing what he wanted to do. He made the decision to go."
Fogarty was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In the days after her son's death, Fisher said, she was comforted by the overwhelming support she received, especially from strangers. Hundreds sent letters and cards.
"There were stacks and stacks of them," she said. "Politicians, church groups, ordinary people -- they just kept coming and coming."
Much of her time is now spent taking care of her two grandsons, said Fisher, a flight attendant. But thoughts of her son are never far away. He was on her mind as midnight approached on May 5, Fisher said. She was in bed, trying to sleep. The next day would mark one year since her son died.
"I was tossing and turning," Fisher said. "I could not stop thinking about what happened."
She asked the fallen soldier to help her get through the times ahead.
"I suddenly felt him there," Fisher said. "It was like he was with me. The next day, I posted on Facebook, 'My son came and held my hand last night so I could sleep.'"
Reach Peter Hegarty at 510-748-1654 or follow him on Twitter.com/Peter_Hegarty.
A ceremony to remember those who died in the service of this nation will take place at 11 a.m. in Veterans Memorial Park, Island and Doolittle drives by the Bay Farm Island Bridge, Alameda. U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Karl Schultz will speak.
The USS Hornet Museum will also recognize veterans during a ceremony onboard the aircraft carrier. It will begin at 1 p.m. and feature a special invocation by retired U.S. Navy Cmdr. Chaplain John Berger and a special wreath tossing ceremony off the ship. The USS Hornet is located at 707 W. Hornet Ave., Pier 3, Alameda Point.