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Army Staff Sgt. Greg P. Gagarin, 38, Los Angeles; killed in Iraq

June 24, 2007|Robert J. Lopez | Times Staff Writer

Army Staff Sgt. Greg P. Gagarin may have been raised in Los Angeles, but he never forgot his Filipino roots.

He was planning to retire on his military pension in several years and build a home in the Philippines, where he and his wife could raise their two children, relatives say.

"He valued his family and always wanted to do what was best for them," his sister Aileen Gagarin said in a telephone interview last week from the Philippines.

She and other family members had returned to the island nation to bury Gagarin in his birthplace, Candon City, a town that sits on the South China Sea.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 29, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 54 words Type of Material: Correction
Gagarin obituary: In the June 24 California section, a photo caption with a military obituary said U.S. Brig. Gen. Simeon G. Trombitas was shown presenting folded American flags to Elma Gagarin and Ernesto Gagarin, the widow and the father of Army Staff Sgt. Greg P. Gagarin. Lt. Col. Rick Ricker was presenting the flags.

Gagarin, 38, was killed June 3 in Thania, Iraq, after an improvised bomb exploded near his vehicle.

A 19-year Army veteran, Gagarin served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 and was on his third tour of duty in Iraq when killed. He was a member of the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, which was assigned to Ft. Lewis, Wash.

"He had a love for serving," said his brother Melvin Gagarin. "That was his passion."

Greg Gagarin came to Los Angeles in 1981 and settled with his family near Los Feliz. Family members said he enjoyed Griffith Park, where he would golf and play football with friends.

Once Gagarin set his mind on something, he was determined to see it through, his brother said. He remembered Gagarin, only 12 at the time, carrying a Christmas tree over his shoulder for about half a mile from a grocery store to the family's home.

"Mom wanted a Christmas tree," Melvin Gagarin said. "We didn't have a car."

Gagarin attended John Marshall High School and decided in his senior year to join the Army. It was not a surprising choice, family members say.

Gagarin's father, Ernesto, retired after 20 years in the Air Force. An older brother also served in the Army. Greg signed the papers to enlist after a recruiter visited the family's home.

"His career took off from there," Melvin Gagarin said.

Aileen Gagarin said some of her fondest memories of her brother were when he would arrive at the family home unannounced, decked out in his crisp military uniform.

"I would feel really proud of him," she said. "Those would be good surprises for me."

She said she understood his calling to serve in the military. But she was uncomfortable when he went back to Iraq a third time.

"Honestly, I felt it was a little unfair because he had been on previous tours," his sister said. "He was putting himself in the middle of it again."

The last time she heard from him, she said, was when she received an e-mail in March. He told her of his plans to retire. "He loved the Philippines," she said.

Gagarin was buried Wednesday. In addition to his father and siblings, his survivors include his wife, Elma; son, Troy, 7; and daughter, Natasha, 4.


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