Four weeks before he was killed in Afghanistan, Army Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance, a South Side native, was hamming it up for the camera on a mother-son trip to Europe.
In Croatia, he took on the persona of his favorite celebrity chef, Gordon Ramsey, while critiquing a meal as his mother, Shawn Gregoire, shot a cellphone video.
In London, the two struck a pose by a stone-faced guard outside Buckingham Palace.
In Paris, their backdrop was the Eiffel Tower.
Shortly after the two returned to the United States, he was deployed on his first overseas tour, to Afghanistan. There, Nance, 24, regularly FaceTimed his mother, telling her it was hot and that he was eating a lot.
He was in Afghanistan less than three weeks when he was killed.
Nance died Monday along with Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer, of Stryker, Ohio, when an Afghan soldier — ostensibly an ally — opened fire, according to U.S. officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak on the record about details that had not yet been made public.
The Defense Department said the soldiers died “as a result of wounds sustained in a combat-related incident” in Tarin Kowt, in southern Afghanistan.
Hours after he was killed, two uniformed Army personnel arrived at the Chatham home where Nance was raised by his mother and grandparents, said Nance’s great-uncle Kenon Forest.
Nearly everyone in Nance’s family — except his mom — was there. The occasion: a repast after the burial of Nance’s great-grandfather Sam Forest Jr., a Korean War veteran.
“We were all laughing and joking, telling family stories, and I see them out the window and I was like ‘I hope they’re not coming over here,’” Kenon Forest said.
Nance’s mother was at her home in Orland Park. Forest drove there and the uniformed solders followed in their vehicle.
“Shawn was confused. She was like ‘What are you guys doing here? What is going on? Why are you all here?’ And then she just broke down,” said Forest, an airline customer service rep.
“It was like the worst day in our family’s history,” he said.
The news was especially hard because Gregoire, the mother of two boys, had spent so much time keeping her son away from violence.
“Shawn enrolled him in a high school in the northern suburbs to get him away from the elements of the city,” Forest said.
“The city’s just known for being a rough place for young men.”
After graduating, Nance spent two years in college in Florida. He often shared with his mom his desire to join the Army.
“It had always been a lifelong dream,” Forest recalled.
“She kept telling him no ... just knowing he’d possibly be in harm’s way,” Forest recalled.
“But she finally gave in and said OK, under the agreement that he’d go back and finish his college degree,” he said.
Nance joined the Army two and half years ago.
He was assigned to the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
”I flew down twice to see the openings of ‘Black Panther’ and ‘Avengers’ last year,” his mother, who works for a company that leases commercial real estate, said in a series of text messages to Forest that were shared with the Chicago Sun-Times.
“He loved, loved, loved Marvel movies.”
The text continued: “I want people to know that he was loved, and he died doing what he loved. ... He wanted to be in Special Forces in the Army and be a lifer.”
Nance’s flag-draped coffin arrived on U.S. soil early Wednesday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
“His eyes lit up whenever he talked about two things: the Army and his family,” Forest said.
Nance’s little brother, 13-year-old “John John” Gregoire, is doing the best he can, Forest said.