NAHUNTA, Ga. -

Proud father Bill Johns is moved to tears thinking of his son, a career Marine who went back to the Middle East as a contractor and was killed by an improvised explosive device on June 17 in Basra, Iraq -- just four days before he was scheduled to return home.

“We're sad, and our hearts are really having some problems,” said Johns, a resident of Nahunta, Georgia. “But, you know, I would have never stopped him, because he was doing something he wanted to do.”

Moncie Lamar Johns joined the Marines when he was 17 years old and served 22 years, including fighting in Operation Desert Storm. He retired in 2010 as a gunnery sergeant and moved back to the United States, wanting to spend time with his two young daughters.

But Bill Johns said something was missing for his son, who was one of four siblings. His two brothers also served in the military.

"He's been always a person to want to help. And he found out really on the jobs here he couldn't help a lot of people,” Bill Johns said. “But he told me a couple times he said, 'Dad, I can help them overseas.'”

Lamar Johns went back to Afghanistan as a contractor and stayed until 2013, and in March of this year he went to Iraq as a contractor. Bill Johns said his son would help clear routes for diplomats and high-ranking officials.

He was checking a perimeter when an IED exploded, killing him.

Bill Johns said the family doesn't know what led up to his son's death, and his body is being held in Iraq while officials investigate.

While they wait for answers, Bill Johns said they're focusing on how much Lamar loved serving his country.

“He told me, he said, 'Dad, this is me, and I like what I do,'” Bill Johns said. “I'm defending my country. I'm making it safe,' and (he) said, 'I want to do what I'm doing.'”

The family has planned a memorial service in Brantley County, Georgia, at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Hickox Praise and Worship Church.

A gofundme.com campaign has raised more than $13,000 to help the family cover immediate expenses and to set up a scholarship fund for Johns' two young daughters.