Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Victor H. Toledo Pulido dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

U.S. Army Cpl. Victor H. Toledo Pulido of Hanford promised he would return home from Iraq.

But the 22-year-old father of a 1-year-old boy never made it back.

Toledo and another soldier died Wednesday in al-Nahrawan, Iraq, after an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

They were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Regiment based in Fort Benning, Ga.

Toledo was the third Kings County soldier killed in the Iraq war. Twenty-three soldiers with ties to the San Joaquin Valley have died in the war.

As the country honored those who have died in uniform on Memorial Day, the Toledo family gathered in the tiny town of Kettleman City to mourn.

They met at the home of Victor's older brother, Josio Toledo, where dozens of photos were scattered on the dinner table.

Wearing his green military uniform, Victor Toledo grinned in snapshots with his son Isak, his mother and his brother.

Maria Gaspar, Toledo's mother, stared off into space.

At other times, her shoulders shook as she sobbed loudly for her son. "I would always tell him to take care of himself because I would never find another son like him," Gaspar said in Spanish through an interpreter. "He was my baby."

Toledo was the youngest of four.

He was born in Mexico and immigrated to the United States with his family when he was 7. He grew up in Avenal, Lemoore and Kettleman City.

He attended two different high schools before he received his GED about two years ago, family members said.

He often worked two jobs, one of them as a cook at Lemoore Naval Air Station, so he could support his young family.

At times, he gave money to his mother to help her.

About two years ago, Toledo joined the Army Reserve. Then he signed up for active duty a year later.

His family said Victor Toledo was not a citizen; he was a legal resident of the United States.

"He liked the military experience he had with the reserves, so he decided to make it a career," Josio Toledo said.

He found out about his younger brother's death Wednesday.

The days following the news have been like a dream, he said.

Josio Toledo, his eyes puffy and red, recalled the times he and his brother fooled around together.

He remembered the paintball tournaments. He remembered his brother's smile.

"He was like everything to me," he said. "I always took care of him. I wanted the best for him."

The news of Victor Toledo's death leaves his wife, Christi, to raise their son alone.

The young couple met at a Halloween party. She was 13, he was two years older.

"He was her first love -- her first everything," said Margaret Aguilar, Christi's mother.

The young couple lived in Hanford and married in December, on Isak's first birthday. Toledo left for Iraq in March.

"My heart breaks because her heart breaks," Aguilar said, motioning toward her 20-year-old daughter, who broke down several times as she helped make funeral arrangements.

Victor Toledo died trying to provide for his family and doing something he enjoyed, said Jim McGee, Toledo's brother-in-law.

"He and Christi had the American dream," McGee said.

They had plans to move to Georgia, where Toledo was based. They had plans to visit Disney World.

"He promised her he'd come back," McGee said. "He promised he'd come back ..."

Funeral arrangements are pending. The family expects Toledo's body will arrive by the end of the week.

McGee said Victor Toledo's father and a brother are trying to get visas to come to California for the funeral.

From the Fresno Bee