Sunday, April 08, 2007

Daniel A. Fuentes dies of injuries from I.E.D.

When news came four months ago that Pfc. Daniel Fuentes' fiancee was pregnant, he knew he wanted to name the child Jonathan Armando if it was a boy.

But early Friday, a different kind of news arrived at the front door of Fuentes' home in Levittown. Two soldiers showed up at 6 a.m. and told his parents their 19-year-old son had been killed Thursday in Iraq by an improvised bomb two months after his first deployment.

Now, Fuentes' fiancee, Emma McGarry, 20, plans to name the child Daniel Jonathan and a close-knit Levittown family is preparing to bury the teenager they called Danny and Wrinkles; the young man who loved candy, seviche and penne a la vodka and who dreamed of becoming an Army Ranger.

"Before he went to Iraq he broke down on the phone," McGarry said. "He told me, 'I'm going, but at least you have something if anything happens to me,'" referring to the baby, which is due in September.

Yesterday, an American flag flew from a pole in front of the Fuentes home as friends and family gathered inside to cry, laugh, eat and remember the oldest of Nancy and Armando Fuentes' three children.

"He would be sitting right here," said Nancy Fuentes, 38, pointing to the head of the table.

Family was everything to Daniel, she said. In one e-mail to her he said he understood how she felt about him joining the Army and leaving for Iraq: "You're going through what every other mother has felt since the beginning of the war."

Daniel Fuentes joined the Army out of high school despite the reservations of family members. "It was always a dream of his to serve this country," said Armando Fuentes, 39. He was a gunner assigned to the 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry, the "Black Lions" 4th Infantry Combat Brigade, 1st Infantry Division based at Fort Riley, Kan., and arrived in Iraq on Feb. 26 after training in Kuwait, Nancy Fuentes said.

"After a mission into Baghdad, instead of going to eat or taking a shower, he would go online or call to let us know he was OK," said Nancy Fuentes.

Without fail, the 2005 Island Trees High School graduate would check in, telling family and his fiancee about his assignments in Iraq and assuring them he was safe. He would tell them about giving Iraqi children candy his mother had sent, and he would ask her to send more. He would tell them he never knew what to expect when arriving in a new area. Sometimes, his battalion was greeted with drinks and sweets; other times with stones.

"They were under fire a lot," said Nancy Fuentes. "It's things we don't hear in the news. "

He would cry and tell McGarry, his high school sweetheart, that he was sorry he couldn't be there for her while she was pregnant. He would ask for her daughter from a previous relationship, Tatiana, 5, whom he considered his own and planned to adopt, to draw him pictures.

"I was online with him Wednesday," said Fuentes' younger brother, Julio, 17. "He had just gotten back from another mission. He was eating, cleaning his gun. He was going to get some rest."

Thursday, McGarry received an e-mail: "I'm going on my mission," Fuentes wrote. "Goodbye Emma."

A little later she got another message: "He told me he loved me from the bottom of his heart and that he would talk to me later," McGarry said. "Tell Tati I love her."

But Thursday night, there was no e-mail. There was no instant message. "I had a weird feeling something was wrong," McGarry said. "No matter how tired he was, there was always something from him."

The next morning, the Fuenteses' dog started barking at 6 o'clock. Armando Fuentes went to the door to investigate and found the soldiers waiting. "He came and got me," Nancy Fuentes said. "He said 'Be ready, there are two officers outside.' I was waiting for them to say he's hurt but that was not what was coming out of their mouths at all."

Nancy Fuentes called McGarry immediately. Instead of planning for a wedding in August 2008 they started making arrangements for a funeral.

McGarry told Tatiana the man she knew as her father wouldn't be coming home. "She went to sleep with a picture of him in her bed," McGarry said.

Fuentes' funeral will be at Charles J. O'Shea Funeral Home in Wantagh. A date has yet to be set. Burial will be at Long Island National Cemetery, Pinelawn.

From Newsday