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Soldier Killed in Iraq Laid to Rest

July 03, 2003|Hilda Munoz | Times Staff Writer

The last time Paul Tokuzo Nakamura of Santa Fe Springs called home from Iraq was on Father's Day, when he spun a story that all was well.

"The first thing he told me was that he had showered and had steak for dinner," his father, Paul Nakamura, said Wednesday.

"We know he was lying. He didn't want us to worry."

Four days later, the 21-year-old Army Reserve medic was killed in Iraq when his ambulance was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

At funeral services Wednesday in Whittier, Nakamura was remembered as gregarious and boisterous, a child at heart, and a courageous soldier.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday July 15, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Funeral photo -- A caption in the July 3 California section accompanying a photo from the funeral for an Army reserve medic misidentified the rank of James Buchanan. Buchanan, who attended the funeral, is a private first class, not an Army specialist.

As a passionate swimmer and an instructor at the Santa Fe Springs Aquatic Center since age 17, "Paul was of one of those people that made the time special for the kids," said Jeff Mahlstede, 40, the city's program coordinator of community services.

"Even though he was an adult, he was a kid at heart. He knew how to relate to kids and get the best out of them," Mahlstede said.

The pews and balcony in the chapel at Rose Hills Memorial Park were filled with family, friends and military personnel Wednesday. Extended family members from Okinawa, Japan, flew in.

The younger Nakamura, whom friends and family refer to as Toku, a truncated version of his middle name, enlisted in the Army Reserves in late 1999. He was sent to the Middle East in February.

Young, intelligent and courageous, Nakamura was a typical Army reservist, Lt. Gen. James Helmly said before the service.

He came "embedded with the fundamental values of good citizenship, a solid work ethic, honesty, loyalty and courage," Helmly said.

As boisterous as he was, Nakamura remained respectful of authority, said Nancy Sanchez, 38, one of his former Cub Scout leaders.

"Even though he was rambunctious, he still was respectful, more so than the other boys," said Sanchez.

Nakamura, who had been scheduled to return home in September, was quoted in an earlier story in the Riverside Press-Enterprise about Army reservists.

"We've seen a lot of casualties, a lot of people in pain, but when they see us, they're happy," he said. "They know they're getting out of here."

Another medic and a soldier were wounded in the blast that killed Nakamura, said Army spokesman Jorge Swank.

"The war is not over," Helmly said.

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