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Army Pfc. Bruce C. Salazar Jr., 24, Tracy; killed by a roadside bomb

August 05, 2007|Rong-Gong Lin II | Times Staff Writer

Bruce Cameron Salazar Jr. took pride in his role as his family's protective big brother.

When he was 16, he grabbed a water hose to try to put out a neighbor's house fire, prompting yells from firefighters to get out of the way.

He liked to act as a bodyguard when he took his siblings and cousins -- all girls -- for a night out. After he joined the Army, he made sure to buy gifts for his family before he left for Iraq, showering them with new outfits, shoes and hats.

And he asked his family not to ask him about what it was like being an infantryman in Iraq.

"He would change the subject. He would tell us, 'Don't worry about it, don't watch TV, don't watch the news,' " said his sister Alicia, 23. "I think he just didn't want to scare us."

Less than two months after he arrived in Iraq, Salazar, 24, was killed by a roadside bomb July 6 along with Army Cpl. Kory D. Wiens, 20, of Independence, Ore., and an explosives-sniffing dog while on patrol in Muhammad Sath, south of Baghdad.

Salazar was buried July 18 at Lakewood Memorial Cemetery in Hughson, Calif., near Modesto, where he was born. A private first class, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart, Ga.

Salazar, an only son, grew up in Modesto and Corona, alternating between the homes of his divorced parents. His mother lived across the street from an armed forces recruiting office in Modesto, and, when he was 8, he spent hours at the office, chatting with recruiters from the Army, Navy and Air Force. "He said, 'Mom, I'm going to be a soldier,' so I figured he would be, sooner or later," said his mother, Margaret Ruiz. "He was going to make a career out of it."

At home, Salazar had fun teasing his five sisters. He also had a competitive streak -- he played high school football and baseball, and always wanted to sell the most candy in raising funds for his baseball team. In the fourth grade, he was proud to be the lone student who was chosen to care for the class pet, a bird, over the summer.

During high school, Salazar fell in with the wrong crowd, dropped out and moved with his best friend to Arkansas, said his father, Bruce Cameron Salazar Sr. He worked at a lumber company for a while and liked to go "mudding" -- taking a four-wheel-drive truck into a muddy field.

His father later moved to Arkansas as well. After a few years of working there, Salazar decided to enlist in the Army in 2005. "He wanted to do things for his mother, be able to help her out financially," such as buying a house for her, his father said.

The Army told him that he had to get his high school equivalency degree, which he did back in California. Living in Tracy, he began attending church with a cousin.

"He found his way," Alicia Salazar said. "He got saved and was born again."

According to his sister , Salazar didn't agree with U.S. involvement in Iraq.

"He didn't understand why we were in Iraq ... why we weren't looking for Osama" bin Laden, she said. "He didn't approve of it. But he was going to serve his country, right or wrong."

Salazar tried to soothe his family's worries.

"He would say, 'Don't worry, I'll be back,' " his mother said. "The best thing I could do was just pray."

Salazar would call home whenever he could. One of his last requests to his mom was to mail him a book so he could learn about becoming a pilot, and a baseball mitt so he could play catch.

He last spoke to his dad on Father's Day. His father recounted their brief phone conversation, which began when his son woke him at 5:30 a.m.

"Get ... up, old man," Salazar said.

"Dude, this is my only day off," his father replied.

So they said their goodbyes.

"I love you," Salazar said.

"I love you too," his father said. "Be careful, man."

Reflecting on that call now, his father said, "That was the last time I heard from him. I just wish I had a longer conversation with him."

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