Sunday, August 12, 2007

Christian Vasquez laid to rest

COALINGA -- Hundreds of mourners, some in black, others in crisp Marine dress uniforms and still others wearing white T-shirts bearing a photo of the man they remembered, celebrated the life and death Thursday of Marine Lance Cpl. Christian Vasquez, 20, of Coalinga.

They called him "hero."

Vasquez, a Coalinga High School graduate, died Aug. 2 of wounds suffered during combat in Anbar province in Iraq.

A burial Mass was celebrated in St. Paul's Catholic Church, where Vasquez lay Thursday morning before being extolled as a proud Marine, loving son and selfless patriot who gave his life for his country.

Before the funeral, Vasquez's father, Augustine, stood beside his uniformed son's open casket. Augustine Vasquez's face reflected intense sorrow and pride.

The slain soldier's mother, Natividad Molina, cried softly at times during the service, comforting and embracing children. Cristian Vasquez has two brothers, Danny, 13, and Alex, 2.

He had served two years with the Marines and had told his family he had but one month to go in the war zone.

The Rev. Norbert Rackensperger, speaking in Spanish, reminded those assembled that this occasion honored a life, a death and a resurrection. He read from the Book of Wisdom that "the just man, though he dies, shall be at rest" and that "he who pleases God is loved."

Rackensperger spoke of Vasquez as "an honorable young man, a Marine, well-loved and well-liked, a great Marine. We honor him because he has laid down his life for his country, made the supreme sacrifice."

Rackensperger urged those mourning to remember sacrifices by Marines over 200 years of U.S. history.

He said the corporal's death was an example of the love of liberty and that it should weigh against those who at times "belittle what the military does."

"Think for yourself," Rackensperger said, comparing Vasquez to Marines who raised the flag on Iwo Jima during World War II.

"We would have nothing if not for them."

Mourners on Thursday sat in pews and lined both sides and the rear of the church. Vasquez was carried down the center aisle in a closed casket draped by the American flag. Fellow Marines, hunched over as they carried the casket, walked soberly.

Outside, Martin Padilla, a childhood friend of Vasquez, recalled their lighter times of childhood, throwing rocks and making mischief. He remembered Vasquez as a good football and soccer player, a good role model.

Among the mourners was Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, who put an arm around Vasquez's mother as he told her that his words could never adequately convey the gratitude of "our community, our Valley and people of our country for his protection of our liberties."

Tears ran down Molina's face even as a smile brightened it.

"He made the ultimate sacrifice," Costa said later. "This weighs on me all the time. This is the third service I have attended."

Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a statement from Sacramento honoring Vasquez. It said in part that Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, "join all Californians in grieving the loss of Lance Cpl. Christian Vasquez, and are forever grateful for the sacrifice that he made to ensure our freedom."

As a cortege led Vasquez's body to his resting place, Coalinga police officer Linda Vasquez, no relation to the slain soldier, recorded the event on film.

"I look at the photographs for memories," she said. "This is something that happened in Coalinga. I have a brother who was in Iraq. Thank God, he made it back."

From the Fresno Bee

Related Link:
Christian Vasquez dies 'from wounds suffered while conducting combat operations'