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A memorial to a fallen daughter of El Monte

Post office is renamed for U.S. Army Spc. Marisol Heredia.

October 12, 2008|Yvonne Villarreal | Times Staff Writer

As people waited in line at the El Monte Post Office Saturday morning to mail letters and packages before the Columbus Day holiday, more than 200 others gathered outside the building for a special dedication ceremony.

The Valley Boulevard post office was being renamed in honor of U.S. Army Spc. Marisol Heredia, the first female casualty of the Iraq war from the San Gabriel Valley.

Under a swaying arch of green and pink balloons -- Heredia's favorite colors -- Rep. Hilda Solis (D-El Monte) and El Monte city officials spoke about Heredia's love of traveling, the French language and her country before unveiling a plaque bearing her name as her family looked on.

"Today we're remembering a brave member of our community," Solis said. "This is a symbol of gratitude we keep for the heroes and heroines."

Born and raised in El Monte, Heredia followed her sister, Claudia, into the Army after high school in summer 2005. She was assigned to the 15th Brigade Support Battalion, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

Marisol Heredia, who held the rank of Specialist 4, was badly burned in an accident in Baghdad on July 18, 2007, after a generator she was fueling caught fire. She was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, where she died on Sept. 7. She was 19.

"She was not only my sister, she was my best friend," said Claudia Heredia, 23, her voice quivering as she addressed the crowd. "Now she's my hero."

Rosa Heredia, Marisol's mother, said after Saturday's ceremony that she could feel her daughter looking down at the family with a big smile.

But that's because "she was a shy girl," Claudia said. "She would be a little embarrassed by all this."

Solis spearheaded the legislation to dedicate the El Monte Post Office in the 11000 block of Valley Boulevard in honor of Marisol Heredia because she is "a symbol to young Latina girls who aspire to lead a better life." The bill was signed into law July 15. It's the third post office dedication for a fallen soldier in the 32nd District, which includes portions of East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley.

"We've had well over 124 deaths in our district; she was the first young woman and she was a Latina," Solis said. "It's tragic and, of course, we want to be supportive of the family and be helpful to them. She was one of us. She's from the neighborhood."

Inside the post office was an oil painting depicting Heredia with the Mountain View High School mascot (a Viking), a section of a map of France and the Eiffel Tower. The painting will be on display in the lobby along with a short biography to be written by Claudia Heredia.

"It's very special to see her being honored by her community," said Danielle Alejo, 23, who met Marisol Heredia in basic training at Ft. Jackson, S.C., in 2005. "She was such a good person. . . . She could always make me laugh when I was down."

Though the ceremony was brief, the plaque will serve as a constant reminder to those who knew of Heredia's legacy.

"I always pictured us meeting sometime in the future in Paris at some cafe," said Kris Hanna, Heredia's former French teacher at Mountain View High School. "Now I can think of her every time I come through this post office."

The U.S. Postal Service has also issued a special pictorial postmark to commemorate the ceremony. It will be applied free of charge to any card, envelope or ceremony program that has first-class postage; it is available upon request up to 30 days after the ceremony at the El Monte Post Office.

Kimberly Castillo, 21, Heredia's best friend since the sixth grade, patiently waited for a postmark after the ceremony. She said she still writes letters to Heredia.

"There's a lot of things that have happened in my life that I could only tell her," Castillo said. "So, I do. I write in my journals and address each entry to her. I don't ever want to forget her."

--

yvonne.villarreal@latimes.com

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