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Marine Cpl. Nicanor Alvarez, 22, San Bernardino; Killed in Action

August 29, 2004|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

There was that elaborate practical joke last fall. The meticulously rebuilt car no one else believed would run. Those precisely round pizzas.

Family members have no shortage of fond memories of Nicanor Angel Alvarez to describe his generous nature and amusing streak of perfectionism. He could be counted on to add humor to their day or help them out of a jam. "He was a friend everyone would like to have," said his older brother Ismael Gonzalez.

The 22-year-old Marine Corps corporal was among four Marines killed Aug. 21 in enemy action in Iraq's Al Anbar province, the Department of Defense said. Alvarez was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

As of Friday, 971 American soldiers have been killed in Iraq since the conflict began, including 113 from California.

Members of his family said they would always remember "Nick" for a practical joke that he played on them during a military leave just before the holidays. Unaware that he had already arrived at his San Bernardino home, relatives had gathered in Colton to view a video he had sent ahead with his wife, Sandra.

"He gave a speech to all of us. He said he had good news and bad news," Gonzalez recalled. "The bad news was he would be in Iraq another year. The good news was that he was outside the house in the trunk of his car," which was indeed the case. "Everyone was running out there because we were so excited," Gonzalez said, "and we didn't even hear the end of the video when he said, 'Hurry up, because I'm suffocating in the trunk.' We are all still laughing about it."

Alvarez had his serious side too. Cornelio Gonzalez said his younger brother would jump out of bed in the middle of the night to give a ride home to a stranded loved one, and listen in earnest to someone's problems.

Even his hobby of rebuilding a 1988 Ford Mustang convertible was something he took seriously. "He took pictures of everything he disassembled so that everything would go back together accurately," Cornelio Gonzalez said. "When he was rebuilding the engine, he and my nephew put it in and took it out three times. He was saying, 'No, we're going to make it work.' We finally heard it roaring and we were like, 'Whoa, that's amazing!' He knew and had faith it would start."

That penchant for doing things right also was evident when he worked at a restaurant during high school. "When he would make the pizzas, he would make them perfectly round," Ismael Gonzalez said.

Born in Los Angeles, Alvarez spent his early years there before moving with his family to San Bernardino County. He played soccer at Pacific High School in San Bernardino and joined the Marines shortly after graduating in 2001. His plan was to save his military pay so he could go to college and become an architect.

He was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. "We were expecting to see him in October," Ismael Gonzalez said. "He was marking his days on the calendar."

Other survivors include a brother, Mauricio Fregoso, and three sisters, Alma Gonzalez, Daisy Gonzalez and Kristel Ponce, all of San Bernardino County. Alvarez's mother is deceased, and relatives said they believed his father was living in Panama. Services were pending.

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