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MILITARY DEATHS / Army Spc. Vincent Madero, 22, Port

Soldier is killed in Iraq when a roadside bomb detonates

December 09, 2007|My-Thuan Tran | Times Staff Writer

Vincent Madero was so exhausted after returning from combat missions in Iraq that he didn't always have time to write to his family and friends. Sometimes, weeks went by before he could send them postcards or e-mails.

But he made sure to sign on to his account on every day, even if he didn't write anything new, knowing his friends and family would check the date of his last log-in to see if he was alive.

The last time the 22-year-old Army specialist signed on to the social networking site was Oct. 17. Hours later, he was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee in Balad, north of Baghdad.

Even weeks after his death, Madero's sister, Casey Penn, 26, checked his online account to see if the log-in date had changed, hoping the military made a mistake.

But it still reads Oct. 17. "It's hard to see that date still there," she said.

Madero's online profile offers a glimpse into a life cut short. There are snapshots of Madero in uniform in Iraq and Kuwait. "Moon River," sung by Audrey Hepburn, plays in the background. He writes that his mood was "restless." He says that watching television is bad for you.

On her own MySpace page, Penn posted dozens of pictures of her brother, the youngest of three siblings who grew up in Port Hueneme.

"Other people will forget Vincent's name and get on with their lives," she said. "Our family won't. We lost our baby. I don't want people to forget that our family sacrificed."

Madero's mother, Sybil, said he was a rambunctious child who never said no to a dare. His family nicknamed him Evel Knievel after he hurt himself as a 6-year-old by hurtling down a winding playground slide on a skateboard.

Madero calmed down as he got older, his mother said, putting his energy into taking apart electronics and gadgets to see how they worked.

He bought old cars and spent hours tinkering with the engines. He liked to draw graffiti-style art and had a knack for photography.

Madero's divergent interests led him to fly in different directions without a focus, members of his family said. He quit going to high school in his sophomore year. He thought the schoolwork wasn't challenging enough, his sister said, and he didn't like the cliques and crowds.

"He had a hard time struggling to find out who he was," she said.

Madero wanted a change in his life, she said.

He had grown up hearing stories from his father, Blas, about his time in the Marine Corps. Madero was enamored of his father's photos from foreign countries. Madero decided to join the military when he was 18.

"It was like he became a man overnight at boot camp," his sister said. "He wasn't my chunky little brother anymore."

Although Madero's family was proud that he had joined the Army, they were also scared.

"There is regret with some of us because we lost him there," said his brother, Daniel Hazelton, 33.

"But I feel that, personally, everyone knows that it was the right choice for him."

After Madero returned from his first tour in Iraq, he surprised the family in June when he married his girlfriend, Ellen Housely, whom he had met while stationed in Alaska.

Madero doted on her 3-year-old son, Jaime, and had planned on adopting him. Madero carried a pair of Jaime's socks in his uniform in Iraq.

Six months after he came home from Iraq, Madero had a talk with his mother.

"You're going to be upset with me, Mom, but I'm going back," he said.

"Why would you do that, baby?" she said. "We just got you back and we're so thankful."

"Mom, they need me," he said. "If I don't go out there, one of those young kids will go out and get themselves killed. I've got experience."

Madero assured her that his assignment was to sit behind a desk at the military base, away from danger. He didn't want her to worry. He returned to the war zone in August.

He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

It wasn't until Madero's mother failed to hear from him for days that she discovered he had lied. Madero was going out on combat missions almost every day.

"I was scared to death," she said.

The last time she spoke to her son, he asked her to send him socks and candy. He said he liked handing them out to Iraqi children while patrolling rural villages.

Madero's funeral was held in San Antonio, near the town where his father's family lived.

Madero's family and friends still leave messages on his

MySpace page nearly every day.

His brother wrote last week: "hey bro have-n hard time to day, please send me a sign or two because to day i really need you."




War casualties

Total U.S. deaths*:

* In and around Iraq**: 3,885

* In and around Afghanistan***: 402

* Other locations***: 63

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

**As of Friday

***As of Dec. 1

Source: Department of Defense

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