Based: Camp Pendleton
3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force
Supporting: Operation Iraqi Freedom
Died: February 9, 2006
Fallouja (near), Iraq
High School: Orosi High (Orosi)
Burial: Hanford Cemetery, Hanford, Calif.
Javier Chavez Jr.'s 19-year-old widow doesn't know what to call herself.
Janie Gonzales says she didn't even have a chance to change her last name to Chavez in the blur of her husband's final months.
He graduated from high school early to join the Marine Corps, went to Camp Pendleton for boot camp and then to infantry school. He came home, proposed to her, was married a week later and then got on a plane for Iraq.
On Feb. 9, somewhere near Fallouja, Chavez got out of a Humvee and stepped on a roadside bomb. It took his life, along with that of another Marine [Cpl. Ross A. Smith, 21 of Wyoming, MI].
The private first class was a quiet 19-year-old from Cutler, Calif., a Central Valley farming town a few miles from Visalia, where he was born. He left behind a family grasping at unfulfilled plans.
"They were going to have a church wedding, buy a house," said his father, Javier Chavez Sr. "He wanted to work with the government, the Highway Patrol, or the FBI as a detective."
"I'm kinda mad," his wife said. "He was young. He wanted so many things in his life. It's not fair for anybody."
She had known Chavez, who went by the nickname of Javi, since grade school.
"He liked me, but I never paid attention to him," she said. "By high school, I liked him and he never paid attention to me. He was all shy. Really quiet. I had to make the move on him."
She remembers how Chavez loved pets. He had an iguana named MoJo, along with guinea pigs and turtles. Their first date was a movie, but Chavez brought his dog, Pancho, so they couldn't get in. Instead, they went to dinner.
Later, Janie said, Chavez told her how he wanted to join the Marines. He was eager to go to Iraq. He wanted to see how it was.
"How can you be a Marine?" Janie said she asked him. "You're so quiet." She said she told him that they could go to college together. But Chavez was determined. Janie said he felt like college wasn't for him.
At boot camp, a drill sergeant would make him yell for 30 minutes straight. He learned to be loud, she said.
Chavez was a romantic, she said. When he came home from Camp Pendleton, she said he told her that he wanted to take her on a romantic trip. She suggested Six Flags. "No, somewhere nice," she said he told her. "Just you and me."
They rented a hotel room in Pismo Beach, Calif. Chavez loved the beach, his father said, adding that his mother used to take him there. While walking on the beach, Chavez asked Janie if she would marry him.
"Yeah, of course," she said, not seeing the ring in his hand. "Didn't we already talk about this?"
When they went back to the hotel room, a friend of Chavez's had decorated it with "a million candles and red and white roses on the bed," Janie said. A week later, they signed their marriage papers. A month after that, he was on a plane for Iraq.
Read the entire LA Times article about Marine Private 1st Class Javier Chavez Jr. here, see more at Fallen Heroes and at Military Times.
Lance Cpl. Joshua B. Tallis, Company I, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, kneels in front of the memorial of Cpl. Ross Smith and Pfc. Javier Chavez Jr., who were killed in action Feb. 9, 2006. The company held a memorial service at Camp Smitty, Iraq, Feb. 20.