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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Cpl. Cesar Granados, 21, Le Grand; Killed in Explosion

October 15, 2006|Tim Reiterman | Times Staff Writer

When Cesar Granados played football at Le Grand High School in Merced County, everyone called the defensive tackle "Big C," because he stood 6 feet 5 and packed a muscled 270 pounds from long hours in the weight room.

People in the farming community of about 1,700 knew Granados as an affable, polite and gentle giant who spent part of his boyhood in Mexicali, Mexico, loved rap music in Spanish and English and lived in a modest apartment with his mother and two younger sisters, who looked up to him as a role model and father figure.

When he landed a job in a pizza parlor during high school, he was proud and happy that he could afford to buy shoes and other gifts for his sisters. But he hoped someday to join the California Highway Patrol or the U.S. Border Patrol so he could help other people and contribute even more to his family's support.

When Army recruiters came to campus and told him that he could play some football in the military and that the training could help prepare him for a career in law enforcement, he turned to his football coach for advice.

"He asked if [joining] was a good idea," said coach Rick Martinez. "I said, 'It's wartime ... but if you really want to go, I support you.' "

Although he had the grades to go to college, the clincher for Granados was that he could earn money in the Army to help his family, according to relatives. His mother was a field worker, raising two daughters.

"He knew what he was risking and felt the sacrifice was worth it," said an aunt, Martina Granados of Fresno. "He wanted to do something good and provide for his family. He wanted to serve the country ... and he wanted the girls not to suffer or feel the need to drop out of high school. And [he wanted them to] have a computer."

Granados enlisted in 2004 before graduating and was assigned to an infantry division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

He made good on his vow to help his family, and he bought his first vehicle -- a used, blue pickup that he showed off while on leave in Le Grand.

But he also broke the news that he was bound for Iraq.

"I thought, 'Oh no,' " Martinez said. "I told him, 'It's like football ... but if people get blindsided, they get killed. You have to be careful.' "

In Iraq, the young soldier combated loneliness through e-mail exchanges with his family, friends and former coach.

He craved letters, rather than material things. So the coach's wife had her second grade class write him.

Relatives say Granados was moved by the violence he saw and the plight of hungry Iraqi children. He asked his mother to send Mexican candy for them.

In his last e-mail, Martinez said, Granados told him, "It's just crazy here, coach, with bodies everywhere, and it's really sad."

"I told him to turn to God and pray, and don't feel that you're alone," Martinez said.

Granados almost jokingly told relatives that if the worst happened to him, military officers would come calling -- and they did. After less than a year in the war zone, Cpl. Cesar Granados was killed Sept. 16 when a roadside bomb exploded near the Humvee he was driving in Baghdad. He had just turned 21.

A fellow soldier would later tell his mother that, when the blast hit him, Granados was talking about visiting his family later this month.

Granados was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood.

Although he was born in the Central Valley city of Merced, his body was sent to Mexicali, where his father lives and he has extended family. "He said he wanted to be buried in Mexico, with no honors, as a true Mexican," said his 15-year-old sister, Denisse.

After an all-night visitation at his father's house early this month, Granados' American flag-draped casket was loaded into the bed of his own pickup.

With mourners and a band bringing up the rear, his parents drove his body to a nearby church for a funeral Mass, then to the gravesite. Several representatives of the U.S. military attended, along with numerous relatives, some wearing T-shirts imprinted with Granados' first official Army photo.

"We are all going to miss him," his mother, Maria, said in Spanish, translated by her daughter. "And he is going to be our guardian angel.... We didn't know he was in danger. He always said he was all right."

Granados was the first former Le Grand High School student to die in Iraq, Martinez said, and people at the school were devastated. During a recent football game, Granados was honored with a color guard salute, and taps was played in a final farewell to "Big C."

tim.reiterman@latimes.com

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

War casualties

Total U.S. deaths* as of last week:

In and around Iraq**: 2,752

* In and around Afghanistan***: 281

* Other locations***: 56

* Includes military and Department of Defense-employed civilian personnel killed in action and in nonhostile circumstances.

** As of Friday

*** As of Tuesday

Source: Department of Defense

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