Friday, August 17, 2007

Juan Lopez remembered

Tina Criss’ life changed forever Tuesday when she received word that her only son, a U.S. Army private serving in Iraq, died in combat just four days after his 23rd birthday.

Juan Manuel Lopez Jr. died Monday, making him the first Florence resident to die in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He enlisted in the Army on Feb. 14, 2006, and was sent to Iraq in September.

Criss said she received the news about 10:30 a.m. during a business trip in Greenville.

“They called me ... and told me I needed to come home as soon as possible and when I got here they were waiting outside,” she said. “We came upstairs and they sat me down and told me the news.”

Criss said officials did not disclose the cause of her son’s death.

“I don’t want to know,” she said. “I just know he died for a great cause.”

Lopez attended South Florence High School and graduated from Poynor Adult/Community Education Center in 2005.

His maternal grandmother, Bertha Gamble, said Lopez’s grandfather retired from the Air Force after 21 years.

“It might have played a part in his decision (to join the Army),” she said. “His father was in the Air Force too.”

Criss said she heard from her son just two days before his death.

“He told my daughter he would see us in December, he said he would be home for Christmas,” she said.

Lopez’s sister, Cassandra Lopez, said she has fond memories of her brother and said he always wanted to be a hero.

“He loved wrestling,” she said with a smile. “When we were younger he always wore a (wrestling) belt and he would say he was the champion of the world. He always tried all his wrestling moves out on me first.”

Juan Lopez Jr. was always extremely proud of his hometown, his sister said.

“He would want Florence to know that he loved where he was from. He would have wanted everybody to know he died for us,” she said. “He wanted to be a hero since he was little and this was his chance.

“It hurts that it was like this, but he loved what he did and he wanted the world to know that he loved what he did.”

From the Morning News

Related Link:
Juan M. Lopez Jr. dies 'of wounds suffered when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device'