YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Army Sgt. 1st Class Victor Cervantes, 27, Stockton; Killed by Small-Arms Fire in Afghanistan

June 19, 2005|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

Victor Cervantes didn't let any challenge get past him without grabbing it by the tail and hopping on for a ride.

And he would always do it with a twinkle in his eye, recalled friends mourning the death of the 27-year-old Army Special Forces sergeant first class, who was killed June 10 by insurgent small-arms fire in southeastern Afghanistan.

He once told longtime friend Rene Bayardo that he was inside a tank on Army maneuvers when it unexpectedly rolled over. Everyone scrambled out, unhurt.

"That's hard to do -- roll a tank -- but it seemed to amuse him. It fit with his personality. He liked to push the envelope," said Bayardo, 26, of Falls Church, Va.

Cervantes' taste for thrills made him drive too fast at times, Bayardo remembered with a chuckle.

During his eight years in the military, the soldier threw himself into challenging sports such as mountain biking and rock climbing, sometimes entering competitions.

"When he did something, he did it all the way," Bayardo said.

Former classmates said that was true even when Cervantes attended St. Mary's High School in Stockton, where he grew up.

Cervantes, his sister and their two best friends joined the Catholic school's badminton team. While the others played for fun, Cervantes played to win, and spent long hours perfecting his technique.

"Victor was really into it, and he was really good," said Issac Boutte, 27, of Fresno.

Cervantes also trained hard on the wrestling team, showing that he could be good-natured as well as competitive.

"The coach would yell at us," Boutte said. "It really bothered some of us, but Victor never seemed to mind. He was always mellow and relaxed."

After graduating in 1995, Cervantes briefly studied engineering at a community college before entering the Army as a cavalry scout.

He planned to have a military career, said Adena Rollins, 28, of Lathrop, Calif., a close friend for 15 years.

To those around Cervantes, it was evident that he had found his calling. When Rollins attended Cervantes' boot camp graduation in Kentucky, "I saw exactly how much he loved what he was doing. To say he was grinning from ear to ear is an understatement."

Cervantes began training for the Special Forces in 1999. The weapons sergeant was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Ft. Bragg, N.C., and had been in Afghanistan since February.

"He would tell anyone he met how proud he was to serve his country," Rollins said.

The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks motivated him even more, she said. "He took that event personally," Rollins said. "He knew that what he was doing in Afghanistan was in response to 9/11, and he fully supported that."

At his request, Cervantes' tombstone was inscribed with the words "Freedom is not free," his family said in a statement.

Cervantes is survived by his parents, Fidel and Nisla, and a sister, Elizabeth, all of Stockton.

Los Angeles Times Articles