A month ago, the family of Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. heard a report on the Internet that he had been killed in Iraq. When his father found out it was false, he and his son promised to go to Las Vegas together when Anzack came home at the end of this year.
But over the weekend, soldiers came to the father’s home in Torrance, Calif.
"They said that my son was missing in action," Joseph Anzack told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira.
Private Anzack was one of seven soldiers on a patrol in Mahmoudiya that was ambushed by insurgents. The area is 20 miles southwest of Baghdad and is known as the "triangle of death." Four were killed and three are missing and presumed captured by a radical group linked to al-Qaida called the Islamic State of Iraq.
The 20-year-old had enlisted in 2005. "He told me, ‘Dad, I couldn’t see myself bagging groceries at Ralph’s,’" Anzack said.
"It’s the American dream," the father told Vieira. "If you put the effort forth, you can do anything you want. I was just proud of him for making a choice and then sticking through it."
Father and son last spoke by telephone last Thursday. "We talked about him coming back on leave that was not going to materialize until about New Year’s and going to Vegas and just getting caught up and just living life," he said.
The false rumor about Anzack’s death last month inspired the resolve to go to Las Vegas, something they had never done together.
"It just made me realize how much unfinished business that we have and the stuff I want to do with my son. Unfinished business," he said. "Just getting to know each other and all that stuff. Share experience, strength and hope."
The young soldier had been home on leave last Thanksgiving — "a good get-together for all of us" — and his father could tell how much he appreciated being back home. When it came time to leave, "I could tell it was hard for him to go back on that plane — go back and do his job. He was dedicated to what he was doing. He gave his all the whole time."
A parent's pain
Anzack understands that he’s just one of untold numbers of parents who have had to endure the agony of not knowing whether a son or daughter is alive or dead.
- Morena Baccarin and Ben McKenzie are Glowing Parents-to-Be at Gotham Independent Film Awards
- Alex Pettyfer Finally Breaks Down His Beef with Channing Tatum: He 'Does Not Like Me'
- Jenna Dewan-Tatum Dishes on Joe Manganiello's Magic Mike XXL-Inspired Wedding Dance to Wife Sofia Vergara
- George Lucas Reveals He Still Hasn't Seen New Star Wars Film - and Explains Why Greedo Shot First
- Emerald City! Kylie Jenner Debuts New Green Hair Color at Lip Kit Launch
"This has been going on for history," he told Vieira. "You read about it before and other people suffering. Now it’s us. My heart’s out for these families. It’s real. We’re the people suffering. My heart goes out to the families."
Those confirmed killed were Sgt. 1st Class James D. Connell Jr., 40, of Lake City, Tenn.; Pfc. Daniel W. Courneya, 19, of Nashville, Mich.; and Pfc. Christopher E. Murphy, 21, of Lynchburg, Va.
NBC’s Lisa Daniels reported that Courneya’s wife told his mother, Wendy Thompson, of his death on Sunday.
"I just started screaming, begging her to tell me it was a joke; just some stupid, sick Mother’s Day prank. It wasn’t," Thompson told NBC.
A fourth soldier who was killed has not been identified and is listed among those missing: Anzack; Sgt. Anthony J. Schober, 23, of Reno, Nev.; Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.
Anzack’s father told Vieira his son was not the soldier who was killed.
The seven were members of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division, based in Fort Drum, N.Y.
Some 4,000 U.S. troops in Iraq have been scouring the area near where the patrol was attacked, searching for the missing. More than 400 Iraqis have been detained, and the Army is offering a $200,000 reward for information leading to their rescue.
"If you can give us all your positive thoughts, your prayers, your hopes, everything positive to bring our boys home," Joseph Anzack Sr. told Vieira.
"My heart is out for the other families enduring the same pain and agony that everybody else is involved in."
He is sustained by the feeling he had a month ago when he learned that the rumors of his son’s death were false.
"It was a great feeling," he said. "It was a really great feeling. I can’t wait for that feeling to happen again."
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints