Useful Idiots and the Theater of the Absurd
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While in boot camp, Tollefson kept in touch with his girlfriend, Natalie Hartley. They had recently broken up, but one day Hartley called with exciting news: She was pregnant. The two reconnected and were married Dec. 6, 2007. Their son, Mac, was born four months later.Read the entire LA Times story about Army Private Benjamin B. Tollefson here, find more here and here and visit Private Tollefson's Guest Book here.
Tollefson was assigned to the Special Troops Battalion, 2nd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Ft. Riley, Kan., where his new family lived with him for a few months. Then, last September, Tollefson deployed to Iraq for what was supposed to be a 12-month tour.
But on New Year's Eve, Charles and Mary Tollefson received a visit from military officials bearing heartbreaking news: Their youngest son, Pvt. Benjamin Bryan Tollefson, had died that day in Balad, Iraq, of injuries suffered in a mortar attack on his unit in northwest Baghdad's Ghazaliya neighborhood. He was 22. In addition to his parents, wife and son, he is survived by a sister, Jaime, 29; and a brother, Jeffrey, 25.
A funeral service with full military honors was held Jan. 10 at Walnut Creek Presbyterian Church, which filled with more than 1,300 people.
“I already miss him so much,” said Bill Pollard, Justin’s father. “I miss him right now. But I also know he’s going to be 21, be an American soldier, and be a hero the rest of my life. In some way, that gives me comfort.”From the LA Times:
Pollard, an Army specialist, died Dec. 30 in Baghdad of injuries sustained in a noncombat-relatedincident, according to military officials. The family has not been given additional details.Read the entire LA Times article about Army Specialist Justin W. Pollard here, find remembrances and comments at Fallen Heroes and see Specialist Pollard at Saddleback Gold Star Moms.
"I will never regret the decision that he made," said his father, Bill, 50, sitting in the family's living room next to his wife, Sue.
"He was doing what he wanted to do. He made the right decision for the right reasons."
As of Monday [in January of 2004], 483 U.S. servicemen and women have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, 354 of them since major fighting in Iraq ended May 1.
Pollard, who was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment based in Ft. Carson, Colo., is one of 53 [as of 12/29/10 622] service members with ties to California who have died.
A soldier is all that Army Sgt. Lawrance James Carter wanted to be while growing up in Upland. It was a family tradition. His mother, father, uncle and grandfather had all been Marines. His stepfather was an Army Green Beret, and his brother is in the Army.
When Carter enlisted in June 2001, he asked the Army to train him for combat. It was like anything important to him, family and friends said: He did it full-tilt…"That was Lawrance...," said his mother, Charles Evelyn Jones-Grays of Rancho Cucamonga, who served in the Marine Corps before her sons were born, then joined the Army National Guard...
After Carter enlisted, he did four tours, the first two in Afghanistan, the last two in Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division in Schweinfurt, Germany.Read the entire LA Times article about Army Sergeant Lawrance J. Carter here and go here to visit Sergeant Carter's Guest Book.
Standing in the gun turret of an armored Humvee, Carter, 25, was one of two soldiers killed instantly Dec. 29 when a roadside bomb exploded near them in northwest Baghdad, said Army Maj. Wayne Marotto, public affairs officer for the 1st Armored Division.
"We stared at each other in our turrets," Army Pfc. Tam Pham wrote to Carter's family in an e-mail, "and exchanged a few words of motivation -- 'You ready, little brother?' 'Let's do this, big brother.'
"I mourn his loss, and the actions of that day are still fresh in my mind and will probably never leave my eyes. My only wish is to rewind that day and tell him how good of a friend and leader he was to me."
In addition to his mother and brother, Carter is survived by his stepfather, Ollie Grays; and his grandmother, Theola Evelyn Christy.
On the night of Dec. 28, Tony Gonzales sat down at his home computer in Newman, Calif. to write his only son an e-mail. TJ was serving his first tour of duty in Iraq, and his father wanted to tell him that their beloved Dallas Cowboys had just lost a game."Read the entire LA Times article about Army Specialist Tony J. Gonzales here, and find more here and here and visit Specialist Gonzales' Guest Book here.
There was a knock at the door. Two Army officers stood there, under the porch light.
"I could see the uniforms and the medals," Gonzales said. "I wanted to barricade the door. I just said to myself, 'No, no, no, it can't be.' "
The officers had come to tell Gonzales and his wife, Marlynn, that their son, Spc. Tony J. Gonzales, 20, had been killed earlier that day in Sadr City, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
"We'd wrestle, we'd play football, we'd play army. We used to love to watch the Three Stooges," Gonzales said. "He wanted to follow exactly in my footsteps, and that made me so proud.
Man I couldn't believe it when I saw RIP in your myspace page. I talked to you a couple weeks before you pass away. Now your in heaven chilling. Hope your familia is doing well. One day will meet again. RIP homie.— Rafael Alvarez
MA3 Alvarez, Rafael USN
Shortly after graduating from South Gate High School in 2003, Ayala joined the Army. After serving a year in Iraq in 2004, he returned to the war in October.Read the entire LA Times article about Army Specialist Luis G. Ayala here and find Specialist Ayala here and here.
On Dec. 28, Ayala, 21, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded near him while on patrol near Taji, north of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 2nd Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.
Ayala left behind a German wife and son that his mother has never met.
"I've just spoken to her over the phone and seen the photos," his mother said of her daughter-in-law.
After basic training in Georgia, Ayala was sent to Germany. On his free time, he and another soldier frequented a park near the base. It was there that Ayala met a German girl named Deniz, his mother said. She still doesn't know Deniz's last name.
From Germany, Luis wrote to an immigration judge to say it was unfair that he should be fighting for the United States while the government denied his mother legal residency.
The judge agreed and gave his mother her legal papers last year.
Livier Ayala still lives in South Gate, where Luis was buried. Her youngest son, Juan, lives at home, while her oldest, Sergio, is married.
She works as a cashier. The little in life that she has includes photographs of her son, the woman who was briefly his wife and the knowledge that somewhere far away she has a grandson she's never seen.
Sergio Gudino was remembered as a war hero and loyal family man Saturday during a somber ceremony too short for all the warm memories of his life, and in a church too small to hold all the people who loved him.Read the whole San Gabriel Valley Tribune article about Army Specialist Sergio Gudino here and read the LA Times article here and find more about Specialist Gudino here.
Gudino, a 21-year-old Army specialist from Pomona, died in Iraq on Christmas day when a bomb exploded near the M1-A1 tank he was driving in Baghdad.
Friends, relatives and fellow soldiers recalled the married father as a "gentle giant" during services at the Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale.His hulking size allowed him to fill a room by himself, they said. But he also had the heart to match….
Gudino joined the Army in 2003, two years after he graduated from Claremont High School. He was deployed to Iraq a year ago.
"One thing was for sure," said his widow, Candy, "he loved being a soldier and he gave it his all."
He was buried with full military honors.
Gudino's casket was lowered to the ground. His 3-year-old son, Cyrus, was the first to drop a white flower into the grave.
An officer salutes Sergio Gudino's widow, while she clutches the flag from her husband's casket.
Eischen enlisted in 2003, rising to the rank of senior airman. He was assigned to the 60th Medical Operations Squadron at Travis Air Force Base, southwest of Sacramento. His most recent posting was in Afghanistan at Bagram Air Base, about 25 miles north of Kabul, where he apparently died in his sleep Dec. 24. He was 24.Read the whole LA Times article about Air Force Senior Airman Nicholas D. Eischen here, scroll through his Guest Book here and read about the subsequent death of his brother Drew "Joey" Eischen here.
Fellow servicemen discovered his body the next morning when they broke down his door 20 minutes after his alarm clock first rang. The cause of death remains a mystery.
Pinion said that doctors had removed his grandson's gallbladder three weeks earlier, but that Eischen was believed to be otherwise healthy and the procedure had gone smoothly.
Eischen was the sixth graduate of Buchanan High School in Clovis to die in Iraq or Afghanistan, and he was a close friend of two of the others who died.
A 2001 graduate of the 2,000-student high school, Eischen was part of an influx of students who joined the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The attack that year did to the class of '01 what Pearl Harbor did in World War II," said Tim Rolen, a longtime friend of the Eischen family and pastor of New Hope Community Church, who presided at Eischen's funeral.
In addition to his grandfather, he is survived by his wife, Leah; a 2-year-old son, Braeden; his parents, Drew and Suzi Eischen; a brother, Drew "Joey" Eischen; and a sister, Jamie Hovsepian.
Army Reserve Sgt. Cheyenne C. Willey and his younger sister, Stacy, grew up eating their grandmother's apple pie, the recipe for which was never set down in writing in her lifetime.Do read the entire LA Times article about Army Reserve Sergeant Cheyenne C. Willey here, find comments and remembrances here, and read more here and here.
On Willey's next leave from the military, the two planned to have a bake-off to see who could come closest to duplicating it. Stacy Willey warned her brother that she had him beat. Through trial and error, she thought she had mastered the crust.
The 36-year-old from Fremont, Calif., was one of two soldiers killed Dec. 23 when a roadside bomb exploded near their Humvee in Baghdad. [Also killed in the blast was Sgt. Regina C. Reali, 25, of Fresno, Calif.]
Born on the Fourth of July in Red Wing, Minn., and named after the helicopters his father became familiar with as a soldier in the Vietnam War, he had a rare sense of duty and patriotism, even in his youth, his sister said.
The last time Willey contacted his sister was Dec. 21. As usual, he wanted to know about his two nieces -- Stacy's daughters -- asking about the older one's grades and how the younger one was progressing with her walking.
Willey was with his sister in the delivery room when she gave birth to her younger daughter, buoying her spirits with characteristic humor.
"He kept saying, 'It's OK, I'm not looking,' " she said, laughing at the memory. "But he was there for me the whole time."
In addition to his sister, Willey is survived by his mother, Patsy Miller, and stepfather, Charles Miller, both of Fremont.
He has been recommended for several posthumous awards, among them the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Omar Roebuck was more than just a next-door neighbor to Pat and Connie Tatum, who have three sons. "He called me 'Mom'," said Connie Tatum, 46, tears running down her face. "Omar was wonderful, funny, smart. He always had a smile on his face. He loved my enchiladas. He was like another son to me."Read the entire Press-Enterprise article about Marine Lance Corporal Omar G. Roebuck here, read more at the 2D Marine Division site, at the LA Times and at Freedom Remembered.
She said she tried to discourage Roebuck from enlisting last year. "But he said, 'Mom, the Marine Corps will give me an education and a better life.' And he loved it."
Pat Tatum, 48, described Omar Roebuck as his mentor, best friend and street biker buddy. "He was very wise for a kid his age," he said. "His father would allow him to think for himself."
John Roebuck lost his job as a truck driver several months ago, then lost his house. He said he's since found work as a security guard but lives in a homeless shelter for veterans.
John Roebuck said he raised Omar and his sister as a single parent for the last 11 years. The three were exceptionally close, especially father and son, who rode street bikes together since Omar was four. Omar called him, "Pops." His sister Eboni, 27, of Barstow, jokingly called Omar "Fat Boy" because he was in excellent shape.
"My son continues to shine even in death," John Roebuck said. "His battalion commander told me he was a great soldier."
Omar Roebuck was promoted to lance corporal on June 2. He received the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
"I don't have the words to say how proud I am of him," his father said.
Johnson, 23, was among 22 people killed Dec. 21 when a man, apparently dressed in an Iraqi military uniform, set off a suicide bomb in a mess tent near Mosul in the deadliest attack yet at a U.S. base in Iraq.Read the entire LA Times article about Army Staff Sergeant Robert S. Johnson here, read more here and find remembrances a tributes at Fallen Heroes Memorial.
[His father] Peter Johnson said in an interview he will remember the basketball games he played with his boy, banging bodies under the backboard at their home.
Johnson said he'll remember the 30-minute showers his son used to take, the way he kept his room and clothes neat and orderly even before he joined the Army, and the way his face would light up when he drove his customized, fire-engine red pickup truck.
Johnson said he couldn't be prouder of his son and soldiers like him.
"I'm appreciative of all of their efforts and every breath they have given for our freedom," he said.
"Robert believed in what he was doing. And he was willing to sacrifice his life for people he knew and didn't know in this country," Johnson said.
The day before he died, Jonathan Castro phoned his parents from Mosul, Iraq, saying that he couldn't talk long because he was exhausted from 18-hour days. The strain of being in a combat zone could be heard in his voice, but the 21-year-old Army specialist tried to be reassuring and upbeat.Read the entire LA Times article about Army Corporal Jonathan Castro here, finding more at Freedom Remembered and you'll find pictures here.
"He sounded like he was ready to drop," said his mother, Vicki Castro of Corona. "He needed to take a shower and get some rest, but he just wanted to say 'hi' and tell us he loved us and that he wasn't going to die in a foreign country. We were so happy to hear from our son."
Eighteen hours later, on Dec. 21, Castro was killed when a suicide bomber attacked an Army dining tent. The blast killed 22 people, including 18 Americans, in the deadliest attack yet on a U.S. military installation in Iraq
Castro's three-year enlistment was to have ended last June. Shortly beforehand, the Army notified him that his active service was being extended as part of a stop-loss program because new recruits were not enlisting in sufficient numbers.
His mother was on the Internet when she saw a news bulletin about the explosion in the Mosul mess hall. "I saw the tent and just knew my son was in that tent," she recalled. "I said, 'Please, let him only be hurt,' as the body count went up."
In addition to his parents, he is survived by seven half brothers. He was buried at Riverside National Cemetery.
|Jorge and Vickie Castro, parents of Spc. Jonathan Castro, stand in the kitchen, Thursday, Dec. 23, 2004, in their home in Riverside, Calif. Castro, 21, was killed Tuesday Dec. 21, 2004, in an explosion in a mess hall. He was assigned to the 73rd Engineer Company, 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team), Fort Lewis, Wash. (AP Photo/The Press-Enterprise, Carrie Rosema) ** MANDATORY CREDIT **|
Pickard, 20, was killed by a sniper Dec. 19 near Fallouja, west of Baghdad, during his second deployment. He was an amphibious assault vehicle driver assigned to the 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.Read the whole LA Times article about Marine Corporal Joshua D. Pickard here and read more here and visit Corporal Pickard's Guest Book and see him and the Pickard family honored here at Malibu Boats.
Relatives described Pickard as adventurous, easygoing and a lover of the outdoors. He enjoyed snowboarding, wakeboarding, four-wheeling, hunting and wrestling.
[His brother] Darren Pickard said he and his brother were never in Iraq at the same time but they shared a sense of mission. "I never worried about myself, but we all kind of worried about him because he's the more action-prone one of the family," he said.
[His mother] said the impact her son had on others can be seen in a letter written to Joshua after his death by four corporals who served with him.
"It was you who raised our spirits when we were down, made us smile when it seemed as if there was nothing to smile about ... ," the letter states. "God doesn't make men like you very often."
In addition to his mother and brother Darren, Pickard is survived by his father, Larry; two other brothers, Dylan and Tyson; and his grandparents.
The family has asked that anyone wanting to honor Joshua's life make donations to Gateway Community Church in Merced to help students go on the Mexico mission trip.
|This week’s publication of a book by photographer Leo Fuchs, who shot Hollywood stars like Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Cary Grant, provides us with an excuse to reprise this marvelous portrait of Newman, who was snapped by a military photographer after he joined the Navy in 1943|