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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Cpl. Kenny F. Stanton Jr., 20, Hemet; killed by a roadside bomb

October 22, 2006|Valerie Reitman | Times Staff Writer

When Army Cpl. Kenny Francis Stanton Jr. first tried to enlist in the military after graduating from Hemet High School, he was rejected because of his childhood asthma and seizures.

But that didn't deter his determination to serve.

He reapplied -- without citing the childhood afflictions that hadn't recurred for years -- and he was off to Army boot camp in Missouri. He spent a year with the 57th Military Police Company in Waegwan, South Korea, before his unit shipped off to Iraq in July. He forged deep bonds with three other young soldiers in his unit who called themselves "the four brothers."

While patrolling Baghdad on Oct. 13, Stanton was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee just two weeks after his 20th birthday. Two others were injured.

Stanton's father, Kenny Francis Stanton Sr., said his son had hoped to use military education benefits to earn his bachelor's degree in education and one day return to teach English at his high school alma mater. He hadn't been satisfied by the single semester of junior college courses he took at Mount San Jacinto College before enlisting.

"He'd say, 'Dad, when I'm done, I can do my military service and go to college,' " the elder Stanton recalled. He said his son had hoped to start classes once he completed his one-year tour in Iraq and shipped out to Hawaii for the remainder of his five-year enlistment.

The 5-foot-6 Stanton ran cross country and wrestled in high school. He was popular with girls -- he named his MySpace.com website "Romeo_Casanova" -- but primarily he was their friend, they said.

His personality, literary talent and compassion came through in a monthly column he wrote for the school newspaper, the Bulldog, called "Ask Kenny," said close friend Paul Nunez. He also liked to read and to write poetry and essays.

"I read a lot and I like to be knowledgeable," Stanton wrote on his Web page. "Anything that really makes my mind jump out and use what the Lord gave me. I love to write and any book that lets me use my imagination is a good book to me."

Friends and family described Stanton as outgoing, fun and empathetic, with a joking side but also a serious side.

His sister, Terry, 12, recalled how he tutored a boy who had been home-schooled for years and inspired him to return to school. "My brother was supposed to come back and tutor me and help me with math and language arts," she said. "He was just a great person."

"He was open to new experiences, always liking to meet new people, and he always had a smile," said Nunez, whom Stanton called his "brother from another mother" because he looked so much like him. In high school, the duo played Xbox racing and sports video games for hours, and Nunez became a fixture at the Stanton house

The friends also spent time helping out at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church in Hemet on activities such as planning games and discussion topics for a youth group, and arranging Mother's Day bouquets.

The Stanton home has been filled throughout the week with their slain son's friends, who come by every day for a few hours just to be with and comfort the family. And to mourn. Sometimes they tell stories and reminisce. And sometimes there's just nothing to be said.

"They just sit here and we all look at each other," his father said. "They're trying to be as comforting as they can."

Stanton tried to protect his parents from worrying about him by minimizing the danger in Iraq, telling them not to believe what they see and read, that "it's not that bad." He would never tell them exactly where he was in Iraq so they wouldn't worry if they heard about explosions or casualties in various cities.

"I'm so proud of what he accomplished," his father said. "He was a beautiful person, so warm-hearted, so open-hearted and very caring and loving. I don't know any other way to describe him."

His buddies in the 57th Military Police Company or their parents have called and written, telling his family how much Stanton was loved and will be missed. One of his fellow soldiers called to say she was hanging out with him the night before he died and told her, "Don't forget, I love you." The other members of the "four brothers" poured out their pain on MySpace postings.

"The tears of the remaining three are still raining to this day," wrote one brother named Ambrose. "The four brothers might have lost one of their own, but he will always be here with us, in our hearts.... We love you Kenny, I love you brother. I shall continue on in your love and memories that you gave to us."

Stanton's website is filled with photos of him and his fellow soldiers. Some are serious -- of him and his buddies at work -- and some are corny -- such as one of him and some friends kidding around with a life-size Colonel Sanders statue. As his heroes, he lists "my mom and dad."

Now, many of his friends and Army buddies have updated their MySpace websites to name a new hero: Kenny F. Stanton Jr. Wrote a team leader: "R.I.P. Kenny Stanton ... An American Hero that is respected and loved like none-other! I miss you my friend."

In addition to his father and sister Terry, Stanton is survived by his mother, Gloria; a brother, Mario, 17; a sister, Brandie, 13; his grandparents, Kilmer Stanton of Downey and Rafael and Gloria Espinosa of Tecate, Mexico; and several aunts, uncles and cousins.

A wake will be today at Miller-Jones Funeral Home in Hemet. Services will be Monday at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church, with burial at Riverside National Cemetery.

valerie.reitman@latimes.com

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