Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Victor A. Gonzalez, who dreamed of returning to Watsonville, Calif., to become a police officer, was killed Wednesday during enemy fighting in Iraq's Al Anbar province.
Gonzalez, 19, was a rifleman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. He had been in Iraq less than six weeks.
After graduating in 2003 from Watsonville High School, where he was on the track and soccer teams, Gonzalez entered the Marine Corps on Oct. 27.
During his sophomore year, he had joined the Watsonville Police Department's cadet program and eventually was promoted to lieutenant and helped oversee the program.
Police Capt. Manny Solano said Gonzalez would volunteer at least 40 hours a month, more than twice the time most cadets put in, helping with traffic control, assisting at crime scenes and going on ride-alongs. "He grew incredibly in character and maturity," he said.
Gonzalez was in excellent physical condition, and Solano said he would take two dozen cadets out to run a mile during their biweekly meetings. "There's no doubt in my mind that he would have been a fine officer," Solano said.
Fellow cadet Lt. Monique Rangel said Gonzalez always seemed to be in good spirits and would do whatever was needed to cheer up others in the department, including being silly or buying them candy bars.
He was so committed to the Watsonville Police Department that he would make sure to visit the station each time he returned home, one or two weekends a month after he finished basic training in January, Rangel said.
Gonzalez surprised Rangel and another lieutenant in August when he dropped in for lunch while they were in San Diego for the annual cadet academy.
Rangel remembers how the trio would often grab a late dinner after cadet meetings or occasionally go to a movie. "He was very close to my heart," she said. "I considered him like a brother."
Although Gonzalez said he was not nervous about going to Iraq, Rangel said he seemed shaken during a telephone call describing one of his first firefights, with bullets landing within 10 feet of him.
"It didn't sound like him; he's always cheerful," she said. "I hated to hear him like that." Rangel said his mood was much more upbeat during two subsequent calls.
Gonzalez's grandfather, Ishmael Avila, said there has been a steady stream of friends and well-wishers visiting the home since the Marine's death was announced.
He described his grandson as a prized student who joined the Marines to get extra training to help with a law enforcement career. "Nobody pushed him or tried to convince him. That's what he wanted to do," Avila said. "He felt he could make a difference."
Though concerned about his other two grandchildren in the military -- one with the Navy in San Diego and another stationed in South Korea with the Air Force -- Avila said he refused to worry.
"You're not going to help anything at all doing that. You'll just make yourself miserable," he said. "You just have to pray that God brings them home safely."
Gonzalez also is survived by his parents, Sergio and Amalia; a brother, Oscar, 12; and two sisters Edenia, 15, and Myrna Celeste, 4.
Funeral arrangements were pending, but Avila said burial would be in Watsonville.