Army Spc. Sergio Diaz-Varela, who grew up in Lomita, enlisted three years ago so he could save up enough money to buy his mother a home, friends said.
The 21-year-old infantryman was killed Nov. 24 when a homemade bomb exploded after he got out of a vehicle in Ramadi, Iraq, a city west of Baghdad that has been a center of insurgent activity.
Diaz-Varela had been in Iraq only a few months. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team at Camp Howze in South Korea.
"He was a really good guy," said 13-year-old Fabian Garibay, one of many residents of a mobile home park in Lomita who are mourning the loss of their neighbor. "He played basketball at Narbonne High School, and he used to take us out to play basketball with him. He was nice to us."
Friends said Diaz-Varela's other main interest was his Ford Mustang.
Fabian's mother, Maria Leticia Garibay, said Diaz-Varela was born in Guadalajara, Mexico, immigrating to the United States with his father, Sergio Diaz, and his mother, Maria Varela, about 1991.
The family moved into the mobile home park in Lomita, but his mother returned to Guadalajara a few years later.
"After high school, he went in the Army," Fabian Garibay said. "His mother was still in Mexico, and he wanted to bring her here and get her a house."
Diaz-Varela was last on leave in Lomita about a year ago, wearing his uniform as he visited old friends. "He looked good," Fabian Garibay said. "He was proud."
About three months ago, Diaz-Varela's unit was transferred to Iraq and stationed in the Ramadi area. The Army said he was on patrol when he was killed.
Friends said Diaz-Varela's body was sent to Guadalajara, where he was to be buried.