Died March 23, 2003 Jorge A. Gonzalez, one of the first soldiers from the San Gabriel Valley area killed, never thought he’d die and never talked about death. He was the second child in a family of six, loved spending time with his brothers and sisters, helped support his parents and was always ready to help those in need. “He was my support, my friend, my confidant,” said his mother, Rosa Gonzalez. Before graduating from El Monte High School in 2000, he played on the soccer team. Gonzalez told his mom when he was still a boy that he wanted to join the Los Angeles Police Department, and planned to return to El Monte after finishing his military service to enroll in the police academy. “Mami, I have to go and fight for the children,” Gonzalez told his mother before going to Iraq. But he also dreamed of raising a big family. He had recently married, and his wife Jasty had their first child, Alonso Manuel, shortly before his death. Her husband had a “pure heart,” Jasty said. He talked about going to Iraq to help free the people, she added. Gonzalez died on March 23, 2003 outside Nasiriyah, ambushed by Iraqis pretending to surrender. A tree was planted in his honor at El Monte High School. The 20-year-old was the first soldier to have a tree planted under the Branches of Honor program, which provided memorial trees to California families who lost a relative in the war. He is survived by his wife and their son, who he never had a chance to meet. Marine Lance Cpl. Donald John Cline, 21 La Crescenta Missing after an ambush March 23, 2003; remains identified March 27, 2003 Donald John Cline, 21, was an all-around good Catholic kid. He didn’t smoke, swear, do drugs or even drive. Basketball and the Marines seemed to be his only addictions. “He was a short kid, but he played big,” said Cline’s uncle of his 5-foot-6-inch nephew. “He was a real go-getter.” Born in Sierra Madre and raised in La Crescenta before moving to Nevada for the end of high school, he attended Crescenta Valley High School. Cline enlisted with the Marines as soon as he graduated. He and his wife, Tina, had two sons, who watched videos of their father reading them a story at night before bedtime. On March 23, 2003, Cline and eight other Marines were reported missing after an ambush on the outskirts of An Nasiriyah in Iraq. Their remains were located a few days later. Marine Pfc. Francisco A. Martinez Flores, 21 Duarte Died March 25, 2003 Francisco Martinez Flores was not a citizen when he joined the Marines, but lived in the United States long enough that he wanted to protect it. He wanted to free people who weren’t free, said his sister. “Pancho,” as Martinez Flores was known, was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, and moved to the states with his family when he was 3 years old. He planned to go to college, perhaps join the FBI. After he got out of the Marines, he wanted to be a detective. Two weeks before the 21-year-old was scheduled to become a U.S. citizen, his tank plunged off a bridge during a sandstorm and landed upside-down in the Euphrates River on March 25, 2003. Citizenship was awarded to him posthumously, and a post office in Duarte was renamed in his honor. Army Sgt. Atansio Haro Marin Jr., 27 Baldwin Park Died June 3, 2003 Atansio Haro Marin Jr., better known as Nacho to his friends and family, was full of energy and never unhappy. “He was so full of laughter,” said his sister, Liliana. Haro Marin’s family moved to Los Angeles from Zacatecas, Mexico when he was 2. They moved to Baldwin Park in the early ’90s, and Nacho graduated from Sierra Vista High School in 1993. He immediately joined the National Guard, despite his parents’ objections. Once his Guard service was completed, he joined the Army. A fellow soldier recalled that Haro Marin “put everybody above himself.” Haro Marin was a hero even before he left base camp – a helicopter crashed near where he was stationed, and he was on the scene to help rescue soldiers who were trapped inside. An April letter home was typical of his cheerful attitude, family members said. He sent his mom a mother’s day card signed, “Don’t worry, be happy.” “He would say, `Don’t worry about it. There will be better times,”‘ his sister-in-law Aracely said. Haro Marin was killed on June 3, 2003. He was stationed at a checkpoint near Balad, Iraq that was attacked by suspected Baath party supporters with rocket-propelled grenades. Army Medic Paul T. Nakamura, 21 Santa Fe Springs Died June 19, 2003 Paul T. Nakamura was a boy scout, a Junior Olympian, a high school athlete and a lifeguard – but even among all that, stood out for his risk taking. Remember the time “his scorpion got out of the aquarium and we were terrified for weeks?” his sister said. “Remember the white snake?” his friend chimed in. “It would get out, and you never knew where to step” in Nakamura’s famously cluttered bedroom, because the snake liked to hide under piles of clothes. Among Nakamura’s all-American activities, his slightly dangerous side – he was also known for crashing bikes on Boy Scout camping trips – stood out in people’s minds. “Paul loved being in Boy Scouts, but wasn’t in it for the badges and stuff. He liked all the activities and the camping,” his sister said. After Boy Scouts, Nakamura became an emergency medical technician with the Army reserves, and his parents worried. “I knew he wouldn’t be thinking of himself over there,” his father said. Nakamura, 21, was tending to a wounded American soldier in a military ambulance when the vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade on June 19, 2003 in Al Iskandariyah, south of Baghdad. Army Pfc. Jose Casanova Jr., 24 El Monte Died Oct. 13, 2003 Jose Casanova Jr. kept busy at Arroyo High School playing football and soccer and joining the track team, but he loved music. He was in the school band, and would use his drumsticks to tap out a beat anywhere. “We played on sidewalks, practice pads, whatever was around,” said his friend, Anthony Milazzo. After graduating in 1999, Casanova returned to the school as a volunteer to teach other students to play. Casanova was the seventh of nine children, and his father told him that he was too nice to join the Army. Nevertheless, Casanova joined to get a better education. He was killed in Baghdad on Oct. 13, 2003 when an Iraqi dump truck crushed his vehicle. Army 2nd Lt. Todd J. Bryant, 23 Riverside/La Ca ada High Died Oct 31, 2003 Todd J. Bryant was used to traveling long distances; albeit not all the way to Iraq. In high school, Bryant commuted from Riverside County to La Ca ada High School, accompanying his parents as they drove to their jobs at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Ca ada Flintridge. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 2002 and went on to supervise a 16-person platoon in Iraq. The group sought out weapons caches and served as a quick-reaction force. He began his tour in Iraq in September of 2003, and in mid-October called his wife from one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces. On Oct. 31, 2003, an explosion flipped his Humvee as he was traveling between Fallujah and Baghdad. Army Pfc. Leroy Harris-Kelly III, 20 Azusa Died April 20, 2004 Leroy Harris-Kelly III met his future wife, Jessica, when they were both learning to be soldiers at Fort Lee, Va. Jessica Kelly reminisced about passing notes back and forth during class and frantically studying together after. They paid more attention to each other than to the teacher, she said. Azusa resident Harris-Kelly was born in Costa Rica and came to the United States when he was 3. He graduated in 2001 from Azusa High School, where he played basketball, the trumpet, and the role of class clown. He would jump up in class, grab the microphone and start singing. He was always full of energy even as a little boy when he would bounce around to Michael Jackson tunes. He and Jessica were married in 2002, had a baby girl in 2003, and when he was shipped out to Iraq, she was discharged and sent home. On April 20, 2004 in Tallil, Iraq, his truck rolled over and crashed during a sand storm, inflicting fatal chest wounds. He was days away from coming home. Navy veteran and contractor Michael Price, 33 Pomona Died April 29, 2004 Michael Price had a knack for taming the terrifying. The rock-climbing, scuba-diving, boar-hunting, search-and-rescue worker took an interest in extreme experiences. Growing up in San Dimas and Pomona, his heroes were military figures and one of his favorite outfits was a set of fatigues he got when he was 12. “He absolutely loved it, and he looked so cute in it,” his stepmom Joyce Bakersmith said. Price graduated from San Dimas High School and joined the Navy in 1988, where he worked as a medical technician and qualified as to train as a Navy SEAL. He earned several honors for heroism on the USS Midway, including one for pulling two shipmates out of a burning ammunition storage facility. He left the Navy to attend Citrus College and Azusa Pacific University, then joined Yosemite’s Search and Rescue team, where his rock-climbing skills helped him reach higher than park rangers could. Next, he became a weapons instructor for a company that trained law enforcement in shooting and defensive tactics, then began working for a consulting firm providing security for contractors destroying Saddam Hussein’s munitions caches in Iraq. His parents worried that he only went to Iraq for the high pay to provide for his 11-year-old daughter, and his mother begged him to come home while his father offered him $100,000 to return. Price e-mailed them: “As crazy as it may sound to some, there is no other place in the world I’d rather be at this moment. I will be home soon. I don’t know when, but I promise I will be there. I love you.” A roadside bomb tore into his truck on April 25, 2004 in Tikrit. Despite severe shrapnel wounds, he fought to help two colleagues. He died from his wounds four days later. Marine Cpl. Rudy Salas, 20 Baldwin Park Died May 20, 2004 Rudy Salas wanted to be a Marine even as a little kid playing with toy guns. After the Marines, where he enlisted in 2001, he planned to go to college and study psychology so he could help abused children. Salas and Veronica Portillo planned to marry after she graduated in 2006. He was an active kid and loved to run. He would sprint home after school before anyone had a chance to pick him up, and played varsity football at Baldwin Park High School, where he graduated in 2001. “It’s still unbelievable. I’m a United States Marine,” he wrote to his fiancee in a letter that was both proud and frightened. He became more spiritual while in the military and wrote about taking comfort in his faith and in scripture. Friends and family described him as a funny, warm person with a big heart, and his platoon commander said Salas mentored the younger Marines and turned the platoon into a family. On May 20, 2004, he died in a non-combat related vehicle accident in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. Marine Lance Cpl. Benjamin R. Gonzalez, 23 El Monte Died May 29, 2004 Benjamin R. Gonzalez, 23, proposed to his sweetheart Ana Martinez and planned to marry her after he got home from Iraq in July of 2004. He called her every week during his time in Iraq. But two months before his scheduled return, on May 29, 2004, he was killed in an explosion while providing security in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. “It was his dream to serve his country,” said his father. Gonzalez joined the Marines in 2000, completed his first tour of duty in 2003 and volunteered for an early second deployment so he could get home as soon as possible. He joined a battalion that had been ravaged by casualties and needed new soldiers. Nevertheless, one of his younger brothers, Samuel Sanchez, still planed to enlist in the Marines as well. Marine Lance Cpl. Abraham Simpson, 19 Chino Died Nov. 9, 2004 Abraham Simpson was serious about service. Before joining the Marines, which was to be followed by a career as a police officer, he was a Boy Scout and later, Eagle Scout, where he was voted senior patrol leader of his 80-member troop. He graduated from Southland Christian School in Walnut in 2003, but had already enlisted by November of his senior year. Simpson was an avid hiker and backpacker and spent his free summer days before boot camp taking one last camping trip and hike through the Sierra Mountains. He left for Iraq in June of 2004, then wrote home often and sent pictures of where he worked and lived. He worked with Iraqi Police to help train them. “He wanted to be an influence everywhere he went and he believed God was going to use him in the Marines,” his mother Maria Simpson said. “People asked why he wanted to be in the Marines. He said he wanted to be part of the best.” He once told her, “I am ready to go. If anything happens to me, I know where I am going. If anybody goes, it would be better if it’s me, because I know where I am going.” Simpson died in combat on Nov. 9, 2004. Marine 2nd Lt. James Patrick Blecksmith, 24 San Marino Died Nov. 11, 2004 Hiding in pretend foxholes and fighting imaginary enemies was one of James Patrick Blecksmith’s childhood pastimes. Decked out in his father’s Vietnam jungle gear, J.P., as Blecksmith was known, would dig a hole in a vacant lot next to his house and play soldier. He was never pushed to become a Marine, but success in high school led to recruiting by the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. At Flintridge Preparatory School, he was quarterback on the football team, with good grades and a good SAT score. He was also a peer counselor, and often took younger students under his wing. He went on to play wide receiver at the Naval academy. He had a quirky sense of humor, and one Christmas, he came downstairs dressed not as Santa but as Saddam Hussein, using an old Halloween wig. “The thing I’ll miss most is his antics,” said Blecksmith’s father, Ed. But Blecksmith also knew how to take care of people, his father added. “He always had time for people,” Ed said. “He knew when to be a tough guy and when to be a real gentleman.” One of the men he served with, Capt. Sven Jensen, recognized that side of Blecksmith. “He had a code of ethics … he was the old breed,” Jensen said. “Men respected him a lot. He was a great leader.” Blecksmith was commissioned as an officer in May 2003 and began his training as a Marine. He shipped out to Iraq on Sept. 10, 2004. He was killed on Nov. 11, while commanding his platoon against enemy forces. Marine Cpl. Steven P. Johnson, 24 Covina Died Jan. 26, 2005 Steven Johnson, 24, knew how to make his sister laugh. He loved doing impressions of Jim Carrey and Mike Myers characters, such as Austin Powers. “He was entertaining. He was very comical,” said his sister, Kari Williams. He was the middle child, sandwiched between two sisters. He sang well, loved country music and was interested in computers and technology. Johnson was also married and had a son, Tyler, who had his first birthday just days before Johnson’s death. Johnson joined the Marines in 2001, and was on his first tour of duty in Iraq when his helicopter went down on Jan. 26, 2005. He and 29 other Marines and a Navy sailor were on their way to provide security for the upcoming Iraqi elections. Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Cesar O. Baez, 37 Pomona Died June 15, 2005 Cesar O. Baez was a medic, saving the lives of wounded Marines and enemy soldiers alike when he served in Iraq. The 14-year veteran and former Marine married his wife Rosanna when they were both training at the Great Lakes Naval Hospital. Baez was 37 with three daughters when he received a surprise care package from his wife just weeks before his death. It was a box with a blue baby bootie glued on top, his first news that they were expecting a baby boy. He called everyone in his family to let them know. On June 15, 2005, he was on a combat operation with a Marine patrol when he was killed by small arms fire in Iraq’s Al Anbar province. Marine Lance Cpl. Dion M. Whitley, 21 Altadena Died June 15, 2005 Going to college with his military money and starting a barbecue catering business with his brother Arian were just a few of the plans Dion M. Whitley had for his future before his convoy was struck by a roadside bomb. He was killed by the explosion on June 15, 2005 near Ramadi, Iraq. He was a determined student who had always been interested in the military. To be eligible to join the Marines, he had to lose weight, so he began walking to and from school – five miles each day. Friends said it was his strong will that helped him lose nearly 100 pounds. He grew from a shy friend to an outgoing leader, and rose through the ranks of his Boy Scout troop to become the Senior Patrol leader, in charge of the whole troop. “The other boys voted him into higher and higher positions,” said Clarence Stubblefield, Whitley’s troop leader. “He was just a likable guy. If someone had a problem, he’d listen.” He also had a mischievous sense of humor, and his mother described an early appearance of Whitley’s silly streak. “When he was in first or second grade, he just stood up in class, did an Elvis Presley impression, and sat back down,” Deborah Whitley said. She and Whitley’s friends tried to persuade him not to join the military, but took comfort knowing that he was living his dream. Marine Lance Cpl. Sergio H. Escobar, 18 Pasadena Died Oct. 9, 2005 Boot camp changed Sergio H. Escobar. In high school, the teenager joined the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, but also ran with a tough crowd. Escobar dropped out before returning to graduate from Rose City High School, and enlisted with the Marines in September 2004. “He changed a lot,” his stepfather said. “He was real nice, the way he would talk to me with a lot of respect.” Escobar apologized for his earlier rebelliousness and began to hang out with his younger siblings. Before leaving for Iraq, he married his girlfriend, Sophia Conchas. He also left a special request with his family in case he died. “If I ever die, I want you to take me in one of those classic cars, like a Chevy Impala.” Escobar had traveled back and forth between the United States and Mexico growing up, after being born in Vera Cruz. After moving to the U.S., he then returned to Mexico to live with his grandmother before returning to his mother’s house in Pasadena. He left for Iraq on Sept. 10, 2005. A roadside bomb in Ar Ramadi, Iraq, took the 18-year-old’s life on Oct. 9, 2005. Army Pfc. Joseph Cruz, 22 Whittier Died Oct. 15, 2005 Joseph Cruz “wasn’t scared of much,” his sister once observed. His high school hobbies – skateboarding, playing video games, listening to alternative music – didn’t give full reign to his daredevil nature. That was unleashed in the Army, when he joined the parachute regiment known as the “Red Devils” and began leaping out of planes. The Sierra Vista High School student joined the Army just before he graduated, and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He surprised his family in 2005, telling them he would be visiting in November, then showing up unexpectedly for two weeks in September. But family members noticed a change in the 22-year-old. He was quieter, more serious. He didn’t joke as often, but was more polite and faster to do what his parents asked of him. “In the beginning, he liked the Army,” his sister said. “This time, he didn’t want to go back.” He had seen a friend die in front of him about a year before, she said, and had lost his enthusiasm ever since. The month after his surprise visit home, he was killed on Oct. 15, 2005, in a non-combat accident. Army Sgt. Arthur A. Mora Jr., 23 Pico Rivera Died Oct. 19, 2005 It was a visit to the American Military Museum in South El Monte that first captured then-6-year-old Arthur A. Mora Jr.’s heart. “When he saw all the tanks, he fell in love with the idea of joining the Army,” said his mom, Sylvia. He met with Army recruiters in high school, and in 2000, the year he graduated from El Rancho High School, his mom agreed to sign the papers allowing him to join the military. Although he was shaken up by the violence he saw in Iraq, and took it very hard when his best friend was killed, his family took comfort in knowing he was where he wanted to be. “He loved the military,” said Mora’s sister, Celia. “He wouldn’t have changed what he was doing for anything.” Mora traveled around the nation and the world, and met his wife in Ohio while on his way to a concert with friends. The pair were married in California. Mora’s young family grew from him, his wife and his wife’s daughter when the couple had another girl. On Oct. 11, 2005, while Mora was in Iraq, his wife gave birth to a baby boy. Just over a week later, on Oct. 19, 23-year-old Mora called home to tell his wife he was safe and not to worry. Hours later, his patrol vehicle was hit by indirect fire in Balad, Iraq. Army Sgt. Shakere T. Guy, 23 Pomona Died Oct. 29, 2005 Shakere T. Guy was always a joker. Dancing, playing video games and teasing his mother were his pastimes. “If he didn’t get me in the morning before work, he’d get me at night,” said Donna Sanguinette. “I’ll miss that.” Guy, 23, was born in Jamaica and became a citizen in July of 2004. He graduated from Pomona High School in 2001 and joined the National Guard to help pay for college. Guy was engaged and planning to return home in September of 2005 to study computer engineering. His tour was extended to December, and he was a month and a half away from fulfilling his commitment to the Guard when he last called his mom to talk with excitement about coming back and getting his own own apartment. On Oct. 29. 2005, he was killed when a roadside bomb hit his Humvee. Army Spc. Sergio Gudino, 21 Pomona Died Dec. 25, 2005 Sergio Gudino was working three jobs to support his small family before he joined the Army. To provide for his wife and newborn son, he worked for United Parcel Service, at a sandwich shop and selling time shares. The couple were married in 2001, the year Gudino graduated from Claremont High School as an athlete and straight-A student. He began attending Chaffey College, but shifted to the working world when he and Candy learned they were expecting a baby. After holding down three jobs, he joined the Army in 2003, to the surprise of his older brother Victor, who described him as a “big ol’ teddy bear.” “He was a strong person, but I couldn’t see him … shooting at people,” Victor said. But “he liked what he was doing. He never seemed scared about anything.” Gudino was a quiet man with a constant smile and who loved being a soldier. A roadside bomb exploded near the tank he was driving during combat in Baghdad on Christmas Day in 2005. At the funeral, Gudino’s then 3-year-old son, Cyrus, was the first to drop a white flower into the grave. Army Spc. Marcelino R. Corniel, 23 La Puente Died Dec. 31, 2005 Marcelino “Ronnie” Corniel’s wedding was less than a month away when a mortar attack claimed his life. The date had been set and his return home from Iraq was scheduled, but his fiancee, Claudia Calderon, would not see him again. He died on New Year’s Eve in 2005, five days before his planned departure from Baghdad. “He was packed and so happy he was coming home. I told him, `Baby, take care of yourself,”‘ said Calderon, 24. The Bassett High School graduate was described by his sisters as the “best brother” and a legend at Bassett who made everyone laugh. His grandmother said he was a confident leader with a love of guns and music – he had recently started a band and recorded a CD. Corniel served in Iraq as a Marine, then enlisted in the National Guard on his return home, not expecting to be sent to Iraq again. He was already slated to get a bronze star for valor in saving other troops in Iraq. Army Maj. Douglas A. La Bouff, 36 La Puente Died Jan. 7, 2006 Douglas A. La Bouff was “everything that people should strive to be,” said his long-time friend Army Capt. Robert Medina. “He was intelligent, physically fit, a devoted Catholic, a loving father and a perfect husband.” La Bouff was against drinking alcohol, and when he was still in high school he started an anti-drug program in his community called Friend to Friend, for which he received a Congressional Gold Medal. He graduated from Bishop Amat High School in 1987, then went to college and enrolled in the Army Reserve Officer Training Program. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, and the history buff dreamed of getting his doctorate and teaching military history at West Point. He spent 10 years in the military, and he and his wife Karen had two children. As a kid, La Bouff re-enacted historic battles in his neighborhood streets, wearing pint-sized military fatigues. He served two tours in Korea and was a top intelligence officer in Iraq. He was scheduled to come home at the end of February, but on Jan. 7, 2006, he was killed in what officials described as the deadliest helicopter crash in almost a year. Marine Lance Cpl. Raul Mercado, 21 Monrovia Died Jan. 7, 2006 Though Rosemead resident Raul Mercado had acceptance letters from several colleges after high school, he set his sights elsewhere and joined the Marines. Mercado was born in the United States but raised in Mexico until high school. He graduated in 2004 from Monrovia High School, where he played basketball and ran on the track and cross-country teams. He was a member of the Spanish Honor Society and a “great guy.” “He was just always smiling, so full of spirit,” said his friend Princess Jasmine. His English was still shaky when he applied to college, though, and he didn’t get into his first choice: West Point. Rather than go elsewhere, he decided to join the military to get the life experience he thought he needed to get in. He chose the Marines because he believed it was the toughest branch of the armed services. The 21-year-old was riding in a vehicle in Al Karmah, near Basra, Iraq, when a deadly roadside bomb exploded and hit the car on Jan. 7, 2006. Marine Cpl. Carlos Arellano, 22 Rosemead Died Jan. 20, 2006 Carlos Arellano’s family remembered him as an outgoing person, extremely popular, athletic and fearless. He joined the Marines in 2003, a year after graduating from Mark Keppel High School. He wanted to go to college to study criminal justice, and he enlisted to get experience to become a SWAT officer. “He was a good listener,” said Arellano’s high school basketball coach, City Councilman John Tran. “He was very coachable. You could tell he came from a good family.” Arellano served three tours of duty in Iraq. He was wounded on the second tour, when he also received a merit promotion for taking out an insurgent aiming a rocket-propelled grenade launcher out of a hotel window. He sent home photos to his family of the things he saw overseas, including pictures of locals waving hello. “His favorite times were when children would come out to wave at him,” his brother Marco said. Arellano was killed by a suicide bomber’s attack in Haqlaniyah, Iraq on Jan. 20, 2006. Marine Lance Cpl. Hugo R. Lopez-lopez, 20 La Habra Died Jan. 27, 2006 Hugo R. Lopez-lopez went straight from being a winning football player at La Habra High School to a decorated Marine. He enlisted in 2004, right after graduation, and went on to earn the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Good Conduct Medal. Before leaving for Iraq, he told his mother he would buy her a house when he returned. He was able to celebrate his 20th and last birthday at home with his family in La Habra before he was critically injured on Nov. 20, 2005. A homemade bomb exploded during combat operations, burning Lopez-lopez over most of his body. He died Jan. 27, 2006. Master Sgt. Emigdio E. Elizarraras, 37 Pico Rivera Died Feb. 28, 2006 Emigdio E. Elizarraras served in the Army for 19 years, starting as an infantryman and eventually training for Special Forces and becoming a Special Forces Intelligence sergeant. At El Rancho High School, Elizarraras played varsity baseball, and made an impression on his coach. Elizarraras was “a great guy, who played four different positions on the team,” coach Ben Meza recalled years later. He was married with two daughters and one son, and family members said he was “a loving husband, a devoted father, a caring son and a selfless soldier.” He died on Feb. 28, 2006 when a roadside bomb hit his Humvee while he was on patrol. Army Sgt. Kyle A. Colnot, 23 San Dimas Died April 22, 2006 Family photos of Kyle A. Colnot highlight fragments of his life story. As he matured from a blond infant to a tattooed, brown-haired teen, the photos show him playing with the important people in his life – his parents, siblings and friends. They showed the San Dimas resident fishing and swimming, playing his guitar and posing with his car. He spent part of his sophomore and junior years at Arcadia High School, and finally, the photos show him standing alongside other soldiers in Iraq. He joined the Army in May of 2000 and served in Afghanistan, then re-enlisted in July of 2004, knowing he would probably be sent to Iraq. “He was motivated by the satisfaction of serving,” said Rev. Roger Sonnenberg at Colnot’s funeral. For Colnot, life “was about service and making a difference.” Colnot was killed by a bomb that exploded near the Humvee he was riding in on April 22, 2006 in Baghdad. Marine Lance Cpl. Salvador Guerrero, 21 Whittier Died June 9, 2006 Salvador Guerrero was known as a little kid who stayed outdoors all day, retreating indoors only when the front yard sprinklers came on at night. He, his cousin and a neighbor were best friends, and would spend hours splashing in the neighbor’s pool, dangling from monkey bars and hopping fences. The 21-year-old joined the Marines, and served as an ammunition man overseas. Three months before his death, he shipped out to Iraq. He was killed on June 9, 2006 when a land mine exploded near his Humvee in Al Anbar province, Iraq. Army Cpl. Matthew W. Creed, 23 Covina Died Oct. 22, 2006 Matthew W. Creed “had a hero’s heart,” Rev. Judith Heffron said at the soldier’s funeral. When he was just 4 or 5 years old, he saw a show about paramedics on TV. Later that day, his parents saw him wearing his fire helmet and performing CPR on his teddy bear. When Creed grew up, he tried to join the Covina Police Department before realizing he needed more experience. He joined the army in 2003 to get that experience. The Charter Oak High School graduate, class of ’01, was offered an assignment in Washington, D.C. after he joined, but he asked to go into combat so he could put his training to use. Friends and family described him as fun-loving and mischievous, and reminisced about his staple-shooting antics with co-workers. About a month and a half before he was scheduled to come home to his wife, Ashley, Creed called his mom, excited about his upcoming leave. “I am coming home!” he told his mom, and they talked over his plans to buy his first car. On Oct. 22, 2006, a sniper shot Creed, 23, while he was on foot patrol in Baghdad. Army Sgt. Rudy Salcido, 31 La Puente Died Nov. 9, 2006 Rudy Salcido loved Texas Hold `Em poker, and his sense of humor led to memorable games. “He made every situation funny,” his brother Erik said. During a family game of Texas Hold `Em, Salcido’s dad plunked five kings down on the table. “Rudy had a whole deck in his shorts, so then he laid down five aces,” Erik recalled. “When he got up, the deck fell out of his shorts.” But the jokester had a serious side, and the 31-year-old’s top priority was his 14-year-old daughter Gabriella. Salcido also married his fiancee, Jennifer, in July of 2006, three days before he left for his third tour in Iraq. The second of three kids, Salcido was a family guy, described by family and friends as loyal and fun. He first enlisted in 2000, and was an ammunitions specialist until 2005. He returned home from Iraq and enlisted again, this time in the National Guard. “He was a man’s man,” said Salcido’s cousin, Joseph Tolle. Salcido was killed on Nov. 9, 2006, when a roadside bomb exploded near his convoy in Al Asad, Iraq. Marine Lance Cpl. Mario Daniel Gonzalez, 21 La Puente Died Nov. 14, 2006 Mario Daniel Gonzalez, better known as Danny, knew in high school what he wanted to be when he grew up: A Marine. He became one at age 18, after graduating from Nueva Vista Continuation High School in 2003 and joining the Marines’ “Buddy Program” with his best friend. Gonzalez liked soccer and paintballing, and tended to joke around, always trying to make people smile. He decided he wanted to become a police officer, and told his father that the Marines would give him valuable experience and more opportunities. When he got back from boot camp, he had changed from a boy to a respectful, responsible man, his father said. Gonzalez proposed to Dalila Ramirez, his girlfriend of 10 months, in September of 2006. They planned to marry when he returned. During the weeks before his death, family noticed that he seemed more worried than usual. He had lost many friends in Iraq. On Nov. 14, 2006, he was killed by a roadside bomb at the age of 21. Army Spc. Elias Elias, 27 Glendora Died Dec. 23, 2006 Elias Elias moved around a lot. He was born in Lebanon, but raised mostly in the United States. He grew up in La Verne before moving to Glendora and then Azusa, and in 2006 he eloped with his wife, Carmen, before moving to Fontana with her. “He made me so happy,” she said. “I was the happiest woman on earth when he was around.” Family members described him as a strong, handsome man with a sense of humor and a sarcastic streak. He was a sports nut, and enjoyed playing basketball and poker with friends. He was a chemical operations specialist and also a fluent Arabic speaker, able to serve as a translator. He loved movies like “Rambo” and “Rocky,” and got a kick out of training with the big guns and monster vehicles the Army had to offer, but he was uncomfortable about the war. “He liked the work, but he didn’t like why he was there,” said his cousin, Johnny Jabbour said. The 27-year-old was struck by an improvised explosive in Baghdad on Dec. 23, 2006. Marine Lance Cpl. Blake H. Howey, 20 Glendora Died Feb. 18, 2007 Blake H. Howey was a quiet kid, but funny when he spoke up. He hung out with a group of kids in high school who transferred from Glendora High School to Whitcomb High School continuation school to try to graduate early so they could join the armed forces as soon as possible. “They were a good group of kids,” said Whitcomb Principal Mark DuBois. Howey was never in trouble, and made the honor roll. Dedicated though he was to getting into the Marines, friends and family tried to talk him out of it, and remembered his less serious moments: encouraging his grandmother to chug a beer, and starting mosh pits during a church youth group. He enjoyed teasing his 7-year-old sister, snow boarding and paint balling. But those who knew him also said he was devoted to his friends, family and faith. The 20-year-old was only a few weeks into his first deployment when a booby-trapped bridge exploded under his convoy as it was traveling from Fallujah to Baghdad. Army Spc. Louis G. Kim, 19 West Covina Died Feb. 20, 2007 When he was in middle school, Louis Kim sneaked into the R-rated war film “Saving Private Ryan.” It wasn’t so much an act of defiance as it was yet another in a long string of signs of his attraction to the military. He played soldiers as a child, carrying a toy gun and singing war songs, and as he grew older he talked regularly about a career in the military. Kim was an optimist, and had a unique way of looking at problems. “Whenever there was something difficult, he would chant, `it’s training for the Navy SEALs,”‘ his childhood friend Tyson Manalo said. Kim’s family moved a lot while he was growing up, from California to Illinois to North Carolina and finally, back to California and West Covina. Even amid the instability, he made friends instantly. He also had a loyal streak that led him to take good care of his friends and keep in touch through letters and e-mail, even when he became busy in the Army. Kim’s youth pastor, Brian Lee, said that dedication to friends might have been part of why he joined the military. “One thing Louis was good at was being loyal to friends, and with the military there is a sense of a band of brothers,” Lee said. Kim enlisted as soon as he turned 18. He was 19 when his unit came into contact with deadly enemy forces in Ramadi, Iraq on Feb. 20, 2007. Air Force Veteran and contractor Geraldine Marquez, 31 Azusa/Glendora/Victorville Died Feb. 27, 2007 Geraldine Marquez was “the queen of online shopping,” friends said, but Marquez often wasn’t shopping for herself. The packages that came for her were gifts for friends at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, where she was staying. Stateside, presents arrived from her to her family: a watch for her mother, plane tickets for her sister, iPods for her nieces and more. “She was extravagantly giving,” her sister said. “She just loved to make other people happy.” The youngest of six children, she was always a child at heart. At family gatherings, she spent time playing with the kids instead of chatting with the adults. Even in Afghanistan, she had a group of children she took care of whenever they dropped by the base. Marquez was born in Nogales, Mexico, and moved to Azusa when she was 3, next to Glendora, and then to Victorville during her high school years. She joined the Air Force after high school to see the world. Eight years later, in 2003, eager to stay involved in her own way, she found jobs with a series of companies contracting overseas. Marquez was working for Lockheed Martin in Afghanistan, handling shipments of supplies for the air base, this year. She was escorting truck drivers into the base on Feb. 27, the morning after celebrating her 31st birthday with friends and ice cream cake, when she and 22 others were killed by an explosion from a suicide bomber. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Many had to overcome the objections of worried parents, some of whom saw their worst fears realized when officers showed up on their doorstep. One deceased contractor’s stepmother captured what many survivors seemed to feel when she spoke of the anguish she and her family felt over the death of her stepson, Michael Price. “This is just one little story here, and to us it’s the most important story in the world,” she said. “But just think of all the stories that are like this.” Since invading Iraq four years ago – March 19, 2003 – more than 3,200 U.S. troops and military contractors have lost their lives. The following are remembrances of those who died and who were born or lived in the San Gabriel Valley, Whittier-area or portions of the Pomona Valley. Marine Cpl. Jorge A. Gonzalez, 20 El Monte • Video: Farewell Ceremony • Video: Portraits of the Fallen They all were in Iraq and Afghanistan for different reasons. Many were attracted to the armed forces since childhood. Families often told stories about youngsters marching in much-loved, pint-size uniforms, singing military songs or playing with toy guns and plastic soldiers. Some saw it as a higher calling, and embraced what they saw as their duty to protect loved ones at home and liberate people abroad. Others saw opportunity – the chance to see the world, to taste adventure and be a hero, or to get enough experience to join a hometown police force. Still others saw it as the only way to earn enough money to pay for college or to support a family.