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Marine honored for his sacrifice

The Norwalk man was among four killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

May 15, 2008|Francisco Vara-Orta and Tony Perry | Times Staff Writers

Amid flags and flowers, Marine Cpl. Miguel Guzman was buried Wednesday on a grassy hillside in Whittier -- a world away from the violent street in Iraq where he died.

After the flag from his casket was folded and 22 doves were released into the morning sky, Guzman's eldest brother, Jose Jr., bent toward the casket and said simply, "Te amo."

Miguel Guzman, who was a mechanic, was killed May 2 in Karma, a onetime insurgent stronghold outside Fallouja -- west of Baghdad -- that lately had been considered safe. His convoy was not on a combat mission, but in Iraq no mission "outside the wire" is routine or entirely safe.

He was on a late-night assignment to recover a vehicle in need of repair. A roadside bomb ripped through his Humvee, killing him and three other Marines from the 1st Marine Logistics Group at Camp Pendleton.

Guzman, 21, a soccer and tennis player, was in a college-prep program at John H. Glenn High School in Norwalk, but after graduation in 2004 he enlisted in the Marine Corps, eager to defend his country.

His parents, Jose and Rosalba, are natives of Mexicali, Mexico, who became naturalized citizens. Their sons, Jose Jr., Miguel and Ricky, were born in the U.S.

"To serve in the military is a vocation that is very special -- the idea of protecting what you believe in," Father John-Paul Gonzalez said during the funeral eulogy at St. John of God Church in Norwalk.

"And there is no greater way to show your love than to lay down your life for someone else."

Dozens of Marines attended Guzman's funeral and burial.

"He was a hard worker, always active, always willing to help," Sgt. Gavino Martinez said.

The funeral Mass and graveside service at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier were mostly in Spanish.

The Marine sergeant-major who notified the family and helped guide them through the funeral said that only a few of the 18 notifications he has made did not require Spanish proficiency.

The formal presentation of Guzman's Purple Heart to his parents -- "On behalf of the President of the United States . . . " -- was in Spanish.

The four deaths were the first fatalities suffered by the logistics group, which is midway through its seven-month deployment.

Marines struggled to explain the emotional effect of the deaths.

"It's like losing a family member," said Sgt. Dewayne Creary.

"More like losing a best friend," said Cpl. Matthew Savage.

"It's like losing a brother," said Sgt. Joshua Siroky.

As she mourned Guzman, family friend Linda Gomez also worried.

Her 20-year-old son, Thomas Lopez IIl, is also a Marine in Iraq. He has a pregnant wife and preschool-age son in the Northern California community of Salinas, she said.

Gomez said she feared that, in memory of his friend, her son might volunteer for risky missions.

"Today, all you can do is accept the emotions in these difficult times," she said.

Before the burial, Guzman's aunt, Leticia Guzman, stood beside the casket and read a statement from the family. The final words were the most difficult. She tried unsuccessfully to choke back tears.

"Today," she said, "we can at least celebrate that Miguel is now in a place where there is no more combat."

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francisco.varaorta @latimes.com

tony.perry@latimes.com

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