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Obituaries | MILITARY DEATHS

4 Southland troops killed in Baghdad attack

July 22, 2007|Louis Sahagun; Maeve Reston; H.G. Reza; James Ricci

Four soldiers from Southern California died in a single attack June 28 when Iraqi insurgents detonated a roadside bomb and fired guns and grenades at their stricken convoy in Baghdad.

The Department of Defense identified the dead as Pfc. Cory Hiltz, 20, of La Verne; Sgt. Giann C. Joya-Mendoza, 27, of North Hollywood; Sgt. Shinwoo Kim, 23, of Fullerton; and Sgt. Michael J. Martinez, 24, of Chula Vista. Also killed was Spc. Dustin L. Workman II, 19, of Greenwood, Neb.

All five men were based at Ft. Carson, Colo., and assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Army spokeswoman Karen Linne said a public memorial service will be held Thursday at Ft. Carson "in recognition of the five gentlemen who died together."

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Sgt. Giann Carlo Joya-Mendoza, 27, North Hollywood

By Louis Sahagun

Even after completing a tour of military duty and landing an accounting job at an edgy Sunset Boulevard hotel, Giann Carlo Joya-Mendoza felt himself being pulled back to the Army life he loved.

What the Honduran immigrant missed most was the regimen and camaraderie, following schedules -- and orders -- to a T. He'd spend hours perfecting the creases of his uniforms, the shine on his boots, the cleanliness of his rifle.

Joya-Mendoza, who was born on the Fourth of July, also "deeply loved the United States," said his cousin Markus Castro of San Antonio. "I'm against the war. But he told me that he just had to get back over there to liberate the people of Iraq."

On June 28, Joya-Mendoza, 27, was among five soldiers killed in a Baghdad attack. It was his second tour of duty in Iraq.

"We love Giann Carlo, a simple, down-to-earth kind of guy who loved what he was doing," said his stepfather, Orlando Useda. "So we will keep him alive in our hearts. For me that means his smile and his determination to be right about even the smallest details."

Joya-Mendoza's affinity for detail was forecast in the hobbies of his youth. Friends and relatives marveled over his extensive collections of baseball cards, stamps, coins, miniature soldiers and dollar bills arranged by serial numbers.

Later, he collected knives: swords, hunting knives, pocket knives, kitchen knives, carving knives, throwing knives. He opened the cellophane packaging of CDs at one end with a razor so they would always appear brand new and in their original wrappers.

Joya-Mendoza, relatives recall, was so neat and proper that instead of holding a taco in his hands and taking a bite, he'd carefully insert the edge of the tortilla between the tines of a fork and then, with help from his other hand, gingerly lift it off the plate.

"It took him a long time to finish dinner," said his sister, Carlota Turcios, 21, "and he'd always leave the tastiest things on the plate for last."

He immigrated to the United States as a teenager and attended Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, but completed his high school education in Honduras. He then returned to his mother's home in North Hollywood and enrolled in a nearby community college.

Joya-Mendoza was 20 when he enlisted in the Army in 1999, serving in Germany and South Korea, where he filed an application for U.S. citizenship. After completing his tour of duty, he went to work at Los Angeles' Mondrian Hotel, working his way up from a busboy job to an accounting position.

"He wasn't happy at the hotel, which would seem to be a nice place to work," his stepfather said. "I'd set the alarm to make sure he would get to work on time, and he still wouldn't get up."

Joya-Mendoza reenlisted in June 2006. His goal was to eventually transfer into "some analytical branch of the Army, and learn another language, possibly French," his stepfather said. "He never told us what his assignment in Iraq was. When we'd ask, 'Giann, how come you never call or write home?' he'd say, 'I'm out on patrol. When I get back, I'm really tired and have to sleep. Don't worry. I'm fine.' "

Useda and his wife, Maria I. Mendoza, last heard from their son on Mother's Day.

"Giann, you OK?" Useda asked him.

Joya-Mendoza just laughed. "We're fine. We're lucky," he said. "Don't worry."

When the family received news of his death, Joya-Mendoza's sister said, she had been "making plans for the whole family to travel to Europe together."

"We spent a lot of time together when we were growing up; Giann was like a father to me," Turcios recalled. "But now I feel as though I didn't get to know him well enough; I didn't get to know the real Giann."

Useda and his wife got their wish to acknowledge their son's patriotism by requesting that his flag-draped coffin return home on his birthday.

"He was awarded his citizenship posthumously during his funeral," his stepfather said. "We were grateful and appreciative of that."

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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Sgt. Michael J. Martinez, 24, Chula Vista

By Maeve Reston

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