Based: Ft. Hood, Texas
16th Signal Battalion
Supporting: Operation Iraqi Freedom
Died: November 2, 2003
Fallouja (near), Iraq
High School: Livingston High (Livingston)
Burial: Turlock Memorial Park, Turlock, Calif.
Pfc. Lau, 20, died Nov. 2 in Iraq with 15 other soldiers when a transport helicopter, taking them to the Baghdad Airport for home leave in the United States, was struck by a shoulder-fired missile. Lau didn't tell her parents she would be returning home from Iraq on leave; she wanted to surprise them for her 21st birthday.Read the entire LA Times article about Army Private 1st Class Karina Sotelo Lau here and find more at Freedom Remembered, Military Times and Fallen Heroes. Visit Private Lau's Guest Book and find her on a FaceBook page dedicated to American Women Veterans.
As the casualties slowly mount in Iraq and the dead trickle home, the impact is beginning to be felt in towns across America. Wednesday was Livingston's turn.
Townspeople -- co-workers of Lau's parents from nearby packing plants, schoolmates who performed with her in the Livingston High marching band, former teachers -- gathered in the church as Father Harvey Fonseca spoke of the young soldier's tragic trip home in a coffin.
Lau's father, Augustin, is ethnically Chinese, and her mother is Mexican. However, both parents were born in Mexico, and Spanish is their first language. West said Karina Lau came into the class speaking mostly Spanish but by the end of the year was registering the highest scores on English tests.
Most of the people in the working-class Merced County town of more than 11,000 have jobs in the nearby Foster Farms chicken-processing plants, the Gallo Winery or the other large food-processing facilities that flank California Highway 99.
The jobs and other agricultural opportunities have attracted one of the state's most diverse populations.
Several churches hold services in Portuguese, catering to that group of immigrants. Mennonites have three congregations surrounding Livingston and a school that goes through the 10th grade. Punjabi Sikhs operate three temples, called gurdwaras, here.
As in many valley towns, Spanish is the dominant language of the streets. About 65% of Livingston's population is Latino. St. Jude's, with attached parochial school, has 8,000 members, most of them Latino.
Looking at the mourners in his church Wednesday, Fonseca, a descendant of Portuguese immigrants, marveled at what he saw as the cohesion of his town compared to the violent chaos that brought down Karina Lau.