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Christopher B. Fishbeck dies at 24; Army specialist from Buena Park

Christopher B. Fishbeck was among six soldiers killed in a rocket attack on their camp near Baghdad. It was one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq in two years.

December 11, 2011|By Carla Rivera, Los Angeles Times
  • Christopher B. Fishbeck made it known from boyhood that he was determined to reach for the stars, either theoretically through his love of physics and astronomy or literally as a pilot or astronaut.
Christopher B. Fishbeck made it known from boyhood that he was determined…

Christopher B. Fishbeck was a simple man with big dreams, he liked to tell friends.

Fishbeck dreamed of orbiting the Earth and running in the Olympics, he wrote on his MySpace page. He hoped to change the world and leave his mark.

That indefatigable nature and unquenchable optimism endeared him to his family and friends.

Born in Anaheim, Fishbeck grew up in Buena Park and from boyhood made it known that he was determined to reach for the stars, either theoretically through his love of physics and astronomy or literally as a pilot or astronaut.

His reading list included titles by Stephen Hawking and Michio Kaku, an American theoretical physicist. He, not his parents, often initiated the family's visits to the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, said his mother, Toni Kay.

"He would take us to the IMAX and we saw the Hubble exhibit a couple of times," Kay said. "He loved going to planetariums and observatories. He and his father used to go the Griffith Observatory. He was very interested in outer space."

Fishbeck wasn't single-minded in his pursuits, however. He played Pop Warner football and wrestled. He was funny and liked to tell stories.

But Fishbeck knew it would take discipline and commitment to achieve his goals.

He decided to take on those challenges when he joined the Army in October 2009. Both of his grandfathers had been in the military — one in the Air Force, the other in the Navy — and he wanted to do his part, his mother said.

He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 7th Field Artillery Regiment, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, Kan.

Fishbeck trained as a tactical data specialist who programmed missiles and mortars, a high-security, highly technical job that suited his scientific bent, his mother said.

In November 2010, he deployed to Iraq, where his unit worked with Iraqi security forces as part of Operation New Dawn.

On June 6, militants fired rockets into the American base at Camp Loyalty near Baghdad. Spc. Christopher Fishbeck, 24, was among six U.S. soldiers who died. It was one of the deadliest attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq in two years.

By all accounts, his job instilled Fishbeck with a new sense of direction and motivation, after a few years of unfocused activity.

"It did wonders for him," said his wife, Stephanie Kidder, 24. "He had a sense of purpose and something to be proud of. He looked happy and in shape. He felt like he was making a difference with his job and it was a way to pursue his other plans."

Kidder and Fishbeck had been married only three months at the time of his death. They had attended John F. Kennedy High School in La Palma, hanging out together frequently before they graduated.

Several years later, Kidder was teaching English in Germany when Fishbeck suddenly renewed contact with her shortly after he arrived in Iraq. They kept in touch via Facebook and Skype, and Fishbeck visited Kidder in Frankfurt during a leave in March. Within a week of his arrival, the couple were married on an island in Denmark.

Kidder said she may not have been quite ready at the time, but couldn't resist his enthusiasm.

"He was extreme in whatever he got into," she said. "Whatever he was interested in got all of his attention — it was an adventure for sure."

Fishbeck liked to push boundaries and in high school was the class clown, said Spencer Bachus, who had known him since grade school.

Bachus described his friend as a mischievous prankster who would make outlandish statements to see the shock on others' faces. One Halloween, he dressed up in his sister's cheerleading outfit.

"He was a force of nature," Bachus said. "There was never a dull moment. When I remember him, I just see him smiling. Everybody was happier because of him."

In May, Fishbeck was granted leave to return to California, where his father, Gary, was having open-heart surgery. He spoke to family members about the increasing attacks on his outpost. Two weeks later, he was killed. Fishbeck was buried June 20 at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Cypress.

"He was not afraid to do a swan dive into whatever pursuit he had at that moment," his mother said. "He dove into everything wholeheartedly and the family is brokenhearted he's gone."

carla.rivera@latimes.com

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