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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Spc. Daniel F. Reyes, 24, San Diego; killed in attack in Iraq

August 26, 2007|Maria L. La Ganga | Times Staff Writer

It was a wish no mother ever wants to grant: Mom, if anything happens to me, I want you to bury me with my brother.

That's what Army Spc. Daniel F. Reyes, 24, told his mother the last time he saw her, at the funeral of his younger brother, Roberto Esparza, 18 months ago.

Reyes was a newly minted paratrooper destined for Iraq, and his words made her heart sink. Rosalia Hernandez, a single mother, had just lost one son with military dreams, and couldn't fathom losing another.

"I told Daniel, 'Don't say that,' " Hernandez recalled. " 'I don't want anything to happen to you.' "

Esparza's plan was to follow his older brothers into the armed services. He had completed the paperwork to join the Army. He had fulfilled all of the entrance requirements except for mathematical aptitude. And he was working hard to master that.

So on his 21st birthday, Esparza got on his bike and rode to a tutoring center in his San Diego neighborhood to bone up on math. He was hit by a car and died in a hospital emergency room 30 minutes later. On Feb. 26, 2006, he was buried in his hometown of San Jose, at Oak Hill Memorial Park.

Two weeks ago, his older brother joined him.

Reyes, a forward observer field artilleryman, had been stationed since October at Forward Operating Base Kalsu in dusty Iskandariya, 25 miles south of Baghdad. Among his jobs, his mother said, was helping clear roads of improvised explosives so that military convoys could travel safely.

On July 31, he had the day off and was on base without his usual protective gear, his mother said. That's when his base was attacked with indirect fire -- a military term that usually refers to mortar or rocket fire.

Reyes and Sgt. Bradley W. Marshall, 37, of Little Rock, Ark., were killed in the attack, and 11 other paratroopers were injured.

Reyes was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 377th Parachute Field Artillery Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at Ft. Richardson, Alaska.

"At the beginning, when he joined the Army, he was enthusiastic, proud," his mother said. "He was always proud of what he was doing, but toward the end, he and a lot of his companions felt they were doing all this, but they were getting nowhere."

Reyes' wife, Rebekah, 23, said her husband joined the Army for the dual reasons of family and country.

His older brother, Antonio Rodriquez, 31, has been in the Navy a dozen years. Reyes saw it as a good life, and he wanted one like it. And then there were the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"He'd always tell me, 'I need to protect you guys and this country and my family,' " said his wife, who lives in San Diego. " 'The only way I can do that is by fighting the war over there, and making sure it doesn't come here.' "

The young couple were married in June 2005, just weeks before Reyes left San Diego for basic training in Oklahoma. Afterward came airborne school in Georgia, then assignment to Ft. Richardson and then deployment to Iraq.

Reyes' son, also named Daniel Fernando, was born while the soldier was away at airborne school. He turned age 1 around the time that Reyes arrived in Iskandariya. Reyes spent every leave caring for his son and was home for at least one big milestone.

"He saw his baby do his first steps," Rebekah Reyes said. "He was a real good father and a real good husband. . . . He was always thinking about us. He called me every morning from Iraq."

But the war meant that Reyes spent more time with his son via webcam than he was ever able to do in person. And then his wife's computer broke. "The last time he saw us on the webcam was around maybe June," she said. "We'd talked on the phone every day. But I didn't get to see him before he passed away."

Rebekah Reyes remembers her husband as a friendly, loving man with big plans for the future. They were fixing their credit and planning to buy a house. He wanted to be an Army Ranger or maybe a military recruiter.

Rosalia Hernandez remembers her son as a big-hearted boy who loved his family and had two favorite pastimes -- sleep and food, especially "tacos, the ones I made him."

To his childhood best friend, Gabriel Barajas, 26, Reyes "was really cool, a good guy," who helped raise his younger brother and nephew.

He "couldn't dribble a basketball for the life of him," but he would never say no when an extra player was needed for a little five-on-five, Barajas said.

He said he tried to talk Reyes out of enlisting in the Army, but "he thought it was important to go and protect the people he loved and cared for. . . . I'm going to miss him."

And little Daniel Fernando Reyes? "He knows who his father is," Rebekah Reyes said.

Although the casket was closed during Reyes' funeral services, a poster-size photo of the soldier in camouflage was on display. The toddler took one look and said, "Papa," before Reyes was buried with his younger brother.

"Whenever he sees a flag of the same material and size" as the one that covered his father's casket, Rebekah Reyes recounted, "he says, 'Papa.' We ask him where his dad is, and he points up."

maria.laganga@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

War casualties

Total U.S. deaths*:

In and around Iraq**: 3,722

In and around Afghanistan***: 362

Other locations***: 62

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

**As of Friday

***As of Aug. 18

Source: Department of Defense

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