Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The Nation

A Community Salutes as Last Missing Soldier Is Laid to Rest

May 04, 2003|Lianne Hart | Times Staff Writer

BROWNSVILLE, Texas — A mother buried her son Saturday, more than a month after an Iraqi ambush left him missing in the desert while she waited for word of his fate.

Army Spc. Edward Anguiano, 24, was the last missing American soldier in Iraq. His body, identified by DNA analysis, came home last week in a flag-draped coffin. The war is over, but Anguiano's family is just beginning to say goodbye.

"It's not how we wanted it to be, but he's here. He's here with us now," said his grandfather, Vicente Anguiano.

Anguiano was a mechanic in the 3rd Infantry Combat Support Battalion based in Ft. Stewart, Ga. He was traveling in a convoy with the 507th Maintenance Company when it was attacked on the outskirts of Nasiriyah on March 23.

As the names of those killed and taken prisoner trickled out, his family waited in this South Texas border town and prayed. His remains were not found until April 24.

"He had a beautiful heart, gentle and concerned," said his aunt, Connie Garzoria. "He wanted to see what the world was like on the outside."

The funeral was at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, where Anguiano received his first Communion as a child. The church bells tolled as a priest conducted an hourlong Mass, alternating between English and Spanish.

"I want to give you honor and love with this humble song, and thank you for taking my place in the fight for democracy," sang a local man, who wrote the song in Anguiano's memory.

The long procession of cars headed toward the cemetery seemed to bring the town to a halt. A little girl stood ramrod straight in a driveway, solemnly holding an American flag. A family of four, in shorts and T-shirts, stopped doing yardwork and lined up in a row, hands on their hearts.

"This is a small enough community where a death like this affects everyone," said Dora Silva, a friend of the family.

The night before, hundreds of residents streamed into a civic center to pay their respects. For four hours they came, kneeling before the casket, sometimes touching it briefly as they prayed.

Like many who came, Diana Salazar doesn't know anyone in the Anguiano family but was drawn here anyway. "I wanted to let her [Anguiano's mother] know how proud we all are of her son, and to honor his life," she said.

A projection screen in the civic center flashed continuous pictures of Anguiano as a chubby-cheeked toddler, a gangly teenager, a young adult in a sharply creased Army uniform.

To his mother, Juanita -- a single mother and teacher's aide at an elementary school -- he was the family's protector, a son who furnished her home and made sure she lacked for nothing. To his two sisters, he was the ideal brother.

"They loved him," said family friend Sabrina Gonzales, 16. "He always took them to eat out, bought them things like a computer and clothes if they needed it."

To his friends in the Las Palmas housing project in nearby Los Fresnos, where he grew up, Anguiano was known as Guero -- or "Blondie." It was a dig at his fair hair and green eyes, which came from the father he never knew. Guero grew up tall and strong, taking guff from no one.

"He knew how to take care of himself," said Gerald Almeida, 24, a childhood friend. "He wouldn't let anybody pick on him or his family. He was like a father to his little sisters."

Hunting, fishing, baseball, full-contact sports -- Anguiano was up for it all. But always his family came first. And his cars came next, said his friends. He rebuilt a Camaro in high school and owned a black Trans Am as an adult. "He always worked on his cars, night and day," remembered his close friend Gordiano Palominos, 23.

When Anguiano joined the Army two years ago, it was a natural fit for the car-crazy Texan who longed to travel. "We didn't expect it would end like this," said his grandfather, hunched over in grief.

At the cemetery, Juanita Anguiano gazed ahead, dry-eyed, to some distant point past her only son's grave. A trio of guitar players sang ballads of love and loss while mourners drifted away.

"He was a mechanic. He fixed things," said Vicente Anguiano of his grandson. "But I guess in war, anything goes."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|