Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Victor Garcia laid to rest

During his tour of duty, Army Cpl. Victor Garcia wrote on his MySpace page that he missed California and was counting down the days until he returned from war-torn Iraq to his family and friends.

Back home with family members in San Bernardino and Upland, he planned to go back to school, move out on his own and do all the things a 22-year-old man dreams of doing.

But the young soldier's aspirations will always be just that.

Garcia, who as part of a Stryker Brigade Combat Team was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division in Fort Lewis, Wash., died July 1 in Baghdad of wounds suffered from enemy small-arms fire.

He was posthumously promotoed from specialist to corporal.

"I understand he was supporting his country, but I wish he had been given the chance to have a family of his own, to live the American dream," said childhood friend Michael Avalos of Fontana.

Avalos was one of hundreds who gathered Tuesday to celebrate Garcia's life at a Mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Monrovia, followed by burial at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Covina.

At the Catholic church, six fresh-faced soldiers carried Garcia's flag-draped coffin into the sanctuary past his weeping mother, who clutched a bouquet of white roses.

Standing near the coffin, the Rev. Carlos Ramirez offered words of comfort in Spanish and English.

"We come here today to remember the life of Victor Garcia and acknowledge his sacrifice," he said. "Victor is not coming home like we want him to. He's gone home to a better place, and our love for him continues."

He thanked the young soldiers sitting in the front pews for their service and dedication to this country and urged others in the crowd to support the troops.

Supported by relatives, Garcia's mother, Socorro Garcia of Upland, spoke about how much she loved her son and that he will always live in her heart.

In her son's last phone call to her, Garcia told her he was OK and to tell his grandmother and brothers and sister that he loved them very much and would see them soon.

Under gray skies that threatened rain, the young man who one day hoped to go to college was buried on a grass-covered hill at Forest Lawn overlooking Cal Poly Pomona.

At first there was silence, punctuated by the occasional bird call, as people gathered on the slope.

But a gun salute soon broke the quiet and a lone soldier, clad in a blue uniform, played taps.

Garcia's weeping parents were calm for a time as Brig. Gen. Louis Antonetti, commander of the California Army National Guard, knelt and presented them with the flag from their son's coffin and the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Socorro Garcia was also given a gold cross by Ramirez, who again prayed with the family at the gravesite.

Garcia's mother was invited to release the first of 20 white homing doves, representing his spirit.

The bird dipped low before flying up toward the clouds, where for a moment the sunlight broke through.

The soldier receiving tribute Tuesday spent most of his childhood in Rialto.

Avalos, who met him when Garcia's family lived next door to his grandparents, remembers him as a quiet, happy-go-lucky boy who liked playing baseball and watching TV.

His siblings, Daniel, Abel and Belinda Garcia, said baseball was so important to Garcia and others in the neighborhood that they would use makeshift bats and wrap tape around a rock to make a ball.

In those street games, he was always the third baseman.

When Garcia wasn't playing baseball, he was watching it on TV. The team he typically rooted for was the Atlanta Braves.

"If you walked into a room and the Braves were losing, he would tell you to get out of the room," said Belinda Garcia.

He also loved to watch the History Channel and cartoons with younger family members, including Abel Garcia Jr. of Phelan.

At home, Garcia was the go-to guy when it came to computers.

"I was always turning to him and saying, `How do you do this? How do you fix this?"' said Daniel Garcia.

At Eisenhower High School in Rialto, he continued to play baseball and didn't have to try hard to earn good grades. After graduating from Zupanic High School, also in Rialto, he attended Chaffey College before enlisting in the Army in 2004.

He signed up to earn money to go to college and major in political science.

He went to boot camp at Fort Knox, Ky., before being stationed at Fort Lewis, where he was selected to attend language school and learn Arabic.

Garcia's family got to see more of him when he was at home recuperating from a broken leg. He sustained the injury wrestling with his brother Abel on New Year's Eve 2005.

When the leg healed, he went back to Fort Lewis and was deployed to Iraq in April.

He was looking forward to coming home on leave in November and celebrating his birthday in Las Vegas and meeting a new niece and nephew. In late 2008, he was supposed to come home for good.

"It's going to be strange, not having him around, making us laugh all the time," said Belinda Garcia. "I will miss everything about Victor."

From the San Bernardino Sun

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