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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Spc. Jose A. Torre Jr., 21, Garden Grove; killed in rocket attack in Baghdad

The combat engineer was on his second deployment. He had joined the military after high school and, friends and relatives say, approached it the way he did anything — without fear.

March 13, 2011|By Nicole Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times
  • Jose A. Torre Jr. was an all-or-nothing type of guy, one who was rambunctious, full of energy and always smiling, friends and relatives say.
Jose A. Torre Jr. was an all-or-nothing type of guy, one who was rambunctious,…

When Jose A. Torre Jr. was in elementary school, his Sunday school teacher challenged him to memorize the names of all 66 books in the Bible.

"He not only learned them forwards, but he learned them backwards," recalled Steve Baeder, 61, a pastor at West Cypress Church in Cypress.

Torre, who was called "Joey" during his childhood, was always up for a challenge, his relatives and friends said. He was an all-or-nothing type of guy, one who was rambunctious, full of energy and always smiling. He joined the military after high school and approached it the way he did anything — without fear.

The Army specialist from Garden Grove was killed Jan. 15 when his unit was attacked with a rocket-propelled grenade in Baghdad. He was assigned to the Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, Kan.

Torre, a combat engineer, was on his second deployment. He was 21.

He entered the military as an energetic, fun-loving boy with an easy smile, and died a man, several close to him said.

As a child, at church camp, he liked to start snowball fights and remove plywood planks from bunk beds, sending people crashing to the floor. He pretended to be a bear and scared girls at the camp, including his sister, Laura-Lynn, now 19.

"That was his life's mission, was to bother me," she said last week, as she sat in the family living room. She wore a gray sweatshirt featuring the insignia of her brother's battalion.

In high school, he often cracked jokes in class. He frequently stopped by the counseling office to chat or to ask about his sister, said Amy Bowman, head counselor at Pacifica High School, where he graduated in 2007.

She described Torre as a "quick-witted jokester with a heart of gold."

Torre was athletic. He played T-ball as a 4-year-old because his father persuaded officials to let him in the league. He was a scrawny Pop Warner football player who wasn't afraid of the bulkier players. And during high school, he lived and breathed wrestling because his father, Jose A. Torre, was a former wrestler.

Tom Pone, Torre's wrestling coach during his freshman and sophomore years, said the student stood out because he couldn't get enough. If he lost, he would ask Pone what he could do better. He graduated with the most wins of any team member in his senior year.

"He wanted to learn everything I could teach him," the coach said.

Torre was a sports fan. He called his father almost every Sunday to talk about NASCAR races. He was a Yankees fan, and one of his dreams was to see the Dallas Cowboys play on Thanksgiving Day in Cowboys Stadium, his relatives said.

He came from a close family, one that frequently went on camping trips and played board games. His relatives had to play card games with multiple decks because Torre was so good at counting cards, his sister said.

Torre also was generous. He was known for cooking for other soldiers he served with at Ft. Riley. And he bought airline tickets for at least two friends when they couldn't afford it, said his mother, Candida Torre.

After his first deployment, Torre seemed more serious, those close to him said. The military had tested him. He was more organized, and called people "ma'am" and "sir."

His mother remembers attending Torre's military graduation at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri and feeling intensely proud.

"It was just amazing to see him transform into the young man he became," she said. "He didn't look like that little punky kid."

When his remains arrived home from Iraq last month, hundreds of people lined the streets outside Pacifica High. Some stood with their hands over their hearts. His mother has started a penny drive for the United Service Organization, a nonprofit that provides services to members of the military.

In addition to his father, mother and sister, Torre is survived by his brother and sister-in-law, Robert and Ashley Rodriguez; a nephew, Preston Rodriguez; and his grandparents, Jose C. Torre and Robert and Dorothy Figueroa. He was buried Jan. 28 at Riverside National Cemetery.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com

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