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Marine Sgt. Alejandro Carrillo, 22, Carson; killed in combat in Iraq

February 25, 2007|Hector Becerra | Times Staff Writer

Alejandro Carrillo was a slight 14-year-old, nervous and unsure, when he showed up in Master Sgt. Phillip Zamora's Junior ROTC class.

"He didn't know what to expect," Zamora said. "One of the things that always fascinated me was how much attention and love these kids needed."

The Carson teenager soon found a father figure in the man he called "master sergeant" no matter how well he got to know him. Before he graduated from Carson High School, Carrillo told his instructor that he had no intentions of suffering a death without meaning on the streets.

"He told me he'd rather die serving his country than in the street," Zamora said.

Carrillo was meticulous about his hair, about being shaved, about his serious demeanor. He seemed to emulate Zamora, who would chew him out and praise him in turn to build discipline.

Soon after graduating from high school in 2002, Carrillo joined the Marine Corps. Zamora said he worried about him, just like he had about all of the boys and girls he had instructed over eight years at the campus. Zamora asked his protege if he knew what he was getting into.

"I told him, 'You know what's going on in today's world, you know the conflict we're in,' " Zamora recalled. "He said he did. He said he wanted to serve his country."

Carrillo's young wife, Maria, who also had been in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps, told Zamora it was not just that. Carrillo wanted to be like Zamora.

Carrillo was in Iraq but had to return suddenly when his 25-year-old brother, Marvin Vasquez, was shot to death Jan. 30, 2005, during a confrontation with Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies.

"Alex reiterated to me, 'This is what I mean, master sergeant, when I said I didn't want to die on the streets,' " Zamora recalled.

On Jan. 30, exactly two years after his brother's death, the 22-year-old Marine sergeant was killed during combat in Al Anbar province, west of Baghdad. He was assigned to Combat Logistics Battalion 7, Combat Logistics Regiment 1, 1st Marine Logistics Group, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Carrillo leaves a 3-year-old son, Alejandro Jr.

"That was his pride and joy," Zamora said. "That was his little Marine right there."

Friends and strangers filled an online guestbook to praise the young man.

"Hey Sgt. Carrillo, it was an honor serving with you," wrote Jorge Martinez of South Gate. "I remember when we first deployed together. It was a little hard, but we made it. Thank you for all the good times."

Carson High cadets also expressed their appreciation for Carrillo. The young Marine would return to the campus to encourage students to stay in school.

"We will always remember you, and with every Marine that has seen the light, we miss you all," they wrote. "Once a Marine, always a cadet. Much love and Semper Fi."

Zamora said he couldn't help feeling responsible after Carrillo died. But he came to realize that the young man he had met as a scared ninth-grader joined the Marines "for the right reasons."

Zamora said Carrillo wanted to go to college and study psychology. Growing up in a tough neighborhood, Carrillo wanted to work with children and help ease their lives, Zamora said.

"He really wanted to work with kids. He wanted to give back what was given to him," Zamora said. "He was very adamant about that."

In addition to his wife and son, Carrillo is survived by his parents, Daniel Carrillo and Luisa Bravo; three brothers, Allan, Juan and Luis; and a sister, Dayana. He was buried with military honors at Green Hills Memorial Park in Rancho Palos Verdes.


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