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MILITARY DEATHS : MARINE LANCE CPL. ARDEN JOSEPH BUENAGUA,
19, SAN JOSE

Slain soldier 'knew what was important'

Arden Joseph Buenagua had enlisted in the Marine Corps right after graduating from high school, seeing it as a rite of passage, a way to get some direction in life and an opportunity to travel, his mother says.

May 08, 2011|Paloma Esquivel

Marine Lance Cpl. Arden Joseph Buenagua knew grief at a young age. Still, his friends and family said, he remained funny, kind and an attentive older brother who was just becoming a man.

He was born in San Jose to parents who came to the U.S. from the Philippines looking for a better life, said his mother, Veronica Trinidad.

His parents divorced when he was young and his father moved back to the Philippines, but Arden, his two younger brothers and mother stayed in the U.S. They lived in a nice neighborhood, his mother said, a place they loved, with plenty of opportunities and lots of ways to keep a young man occupied.

Buenagua loved fast cars and computers, music and dancing, his mother said. He collected every movie in the "Fast and the Furious" franchise and played "Call of Duty" video games for hours with his brothers.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, May 11, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 47 words Type of Material: Correction
Arden Buenagua obituary: In the May 8 California section, the headline on the obituary of Marine Lance Cpl. Arden Joseph Buenagua, who was killed in November by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, referred to him as a soldier. He was a member of the Marine Corps.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, May 15, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Arden Buenagua obituary: In the May 8 California section, the headline on the obituary of Marine Lance Cpl. Arden Joseph Buenagua, who was killed in November by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, referred to him as a soldier. He was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

He described himself on his Facebook page this way: "I make friends pretty easily since I just start talking to people and if they like me they like me and if they don't then too bad right? But that's just the way it is."

Every summer, he and his brothers would get round-trip tickets from their father to visit him in the Philippines and every summer they went -- spending their days at the arcade and lounging on the beach.

In high school, before Buenagua got his driver's license, he would sometimes sneak away to see his girlfriend in the middle of the night, using his mother's car.

"He was kind of rebellious," said Audrey Namba, who was then his girlfriend. "But he knew what was important. He was always there for people, always willing to talk, and he always had a smile on his face. I know it's cliche to say but it's true.... He was always trying to cheer people up."

Buenagua was 17 when the family learned that his father had been killed in the Philippines. Authorities there were never able to determine who was responsible, his mother said, but her son was changed by the news.

"He was pretty angry," she said. "There was no justice back in the Philippines."

The hazy circumstances surrounding his father's death helped push Buenagua to join the Marine Corps, Trinidad said.

But she said he also saw it as a rite of passage, a way to get some direction in life and an opportunity to travel.

Buenagua enlisted in 2009, right after he graduated from San Jose's Independence High School.

"All of our family saw how Arden became a young Marine," Trinidad said. "The way he talked, the way he acts.... It was like a total transformation of my son."

He stayed close to his younger brothers, taking them out to movies and to eat sushi and playing video games with them when he was home.

Buenagua spent several months training as a combat engineer and then, less than a year after he finished boot camp, learned that he would be deployed to Afghanistan.

The family found time to take a vacation together, and shortly before he deployed, his mother and grandparents, who were visiting from the Philippines, went to see him at Camp Pendleton.

"I noticed a little bit of sadness on his face," Trinidad said. "But he was just telling me that I don't have to worry because he will be all right. He was a little bit sad because our family, we have very strong family ties."

Buenagua arrived in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, on the Pakistani border, in the fall: "after a few days of traveling. we're finally gonna arrive in afghan today," he wrote on his Facebook page.

Two months later, on the day before Thanksgiving, he was killed by an improvised explosive device. He was 19.

Buenagua was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.

After his funeral in December, Bay Area firefighters lined the overpasses to watch the procession pass, paying tribute to a man most of them did not know.

Buenagua was buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno, south of San Francisco.

"I'm just super proud of him," Trinidad said. For "his courage. For the ultimate sacrifice he gave to the country."

In addition to his mother, Buenagua's survivors include his brothers, Arneil Buenagua, 32, Justin Buenagua, 11, and Ryan Trinidad, 7; and his stepfather, Raymond Trinidad, 48.

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paloma.esquivel@latimes.com

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