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Family Recalls Spirit of Slain Southland Soldier

The Army reservist was killed when a grenade struck the ambulance he was in.

June 22, 2003|Hilda Munoz | Times Staff Writer

Spc. Paul T. Nakamura joined the Army Reserves against his father's wishes because he was a proud American, family and friends said on Saturday while remembering the gregarious 21-year-old killed in Iraq last week.

"One day he said, 'Mom, Dad, I'm so proud I was born in the United States," said his mother, Yoko, 55.

He was assigned to the 437th Medical Company, based in Colorado Springs, Colo. Nakamura was deployed to the Middle East in February.

The Santa Fe Springs native was killed Thursday when the ambulance he was in was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in Al Iskandariyah, officials said.

At a memorial at his parents' home, Nakamura's family and friends also recalled his antics with laughter.

His father remembered an incident during camp with the Boy Scouts when his son and a few friends were riding bikes down a steep hill. The other boys pressed their brakes to slow down, but not Nakamura.

"He pedaled on the hill, and he met a tree," said Paul Nakamura, 60.

Candles on the coffee table flickered next to a framed portrait of Nakamura in his uniform. Other pictures taken of him and his family were scattered nearby.

"He was a rascal -- you would tell him not to do something, and he would do it anyway," said his sister, Pearl Nakamura, 23. She spent a lot of time with her brother, shooting pool, bowling and swimming. They were only one grade apart at Santa Fe High School.

"We got in trouble together," she said.

A passionate swimmer, Nakamura was a lifeguard and had taught swimming at the Santa Fe Springs Aquatic Center since he was 17 and belonged to the high school water polo team, Pearl Nakamura said.

Before he left, "we had a party almost every night, because we didn't know when he was leaving," she said.

"Every time we'd say goodbye to him, we'd see him the following week," said a friend, Nick Costantino, 82.

The last time the family spoke to Nakamura was on Father's Day.

"The first thing he told me was that he had showered and had steak for dinner -- we know he was lying," his father said.

"He didn't want us to worry."

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