Saturday, April 14, 2007

Damian Lopez Rodriguez remembered

To his teachers at Pueblo Magnet High School, Damian Lopez Rodriguez was a picture of happiness, especially after joining the Army.

To students — in particular, fellow drummers on his high school drum line — he was a king of comedy, a master of wisecracks and wacky antics.

And at home, Rodriguez, the baby of his family, was said to be devoted to his mother.

All were left reeling when they learned the exuberant young infantryman had been killed in action in Iraq at age 19.

"It's just crushing," said Nora Ford, Pueblo's band director during Rodriguez's senior year. Ford spent much of Tuesday comforting shaken students.

Rodriguez, a 2005 Pueblo graduate and an Army private, was one of three soldiers who died in Baghdad on Good Friday when a homemade bomb went off under their Humvee.

Friends said he joined the military for college money and was fiercely proud of his decision to enlist.

He is the 30th service member with Southern Arizona ties to be claimed by the conflicts in Iraq and sAfghanistan, and the first Pueblo graduate killed.

The South Side school had counselors standing by Tuesday to assist those who were grieving.

"Some of our teachers were hit hard by this," school Principal Patricia Dienz said.

Ford, the band director, said Rodriguez sometimes posed as a tough guy, but he actually was softhearted and lived with great gusto for someone so young.

"He loved the drums, he loved his family, and he loved the Army. He seemed to live every moment to the fullest," she said. "He was unique. He didn't let anyone tell him who or what or how to be."

Besides playing in the band, Rodriguez was active in MEChA, a Chicano civil-rights group. The letters stand for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán.

"We lost a good one," said Sandi Baker, a Pueblo science teacher who taught Rodriguez during his senior year and visited his family's home on Tuesday.

Army officials said the family didn't want to speak to the media. Baker said the family was having a hard time coping, especially the soldier's mother.

Baker said one of the first things she noticed in Rodriguez's bedroom was the dark blue tassel from his Pueblo graduation cap hanging on the wall. On his bed frame was a recruiting sticker bearing the slogan "An Army of One."

Rodriguez was so thrilled to be a soldier that before he left for Iraq, he paid a visit to his old high school to show off his uniform to the office staff.

"He was very proud to be serving his country," said Gloria Zamorano, Pueblo's attendance secretary.

"I had a bad feeling, so I hugged him extra hard," Zamorano recalled of the soldier's school visit last summer. "I was thinking, 'Don't go.' "

In high school, the soldier was known as Damian Lopez. The Army news release announcing his death added the name Rodriguez. It wasn't immediately clear when or why the soldier began using a new surname.

Pueblo drum line members spent several hours Tuesday trading funny stories about their friend.

There was the time when Rodriguez threw one of them in the lake at Kennedy Park during a band picnic, the time he launched a shaving-cream fight, and all the times they caught him in the band room watching Disney's "Aladdin," his favorite movie.

"I asked him why he was going to Iraq, and he said, 'So I can put lowrider rims on the tanks,' " said drummer Vicente Samaniego, 16, a Pueblo junior. "He was confident he would come back alive."

Rodriguez is survived by his mother, Ana Rodriguez; his father, Rafael Lopez; and two siblings, said South Side resident Jessie Pallanes, who described herself as a friend of the family.

He was overseas with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, based in Schweinfurt, Germany.

From the Star

Related Link:
Damian Lopez Rodriguez dies of injuries from I.E.D.