Thursday, January 24, 2008

2003: first US soldier killed in Iraq war

The first US serviceman killed in combat in Iraq was not a citizen of the country for which he sacrificed his life.

Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22, a rifleman with the Marines, died in a firefight March 21, 2003 near Umm Qasr. Born in Guatemala, Gutierrez held permanent US resident status, which he obtained in 1999.

At 14, with his parents dead, Gutierrez followed the path of 700,000 of his countrymen to California. He made the 2,000-mile journey on 14 freight trains to get through Mexico. He had no entry papers and US border authorities detained him.

Fernando Castillo, Guatemala’s consul general in Los Angeles, says the United States doesn’t deport Guatemalan minors who arrive without family. Gutierrez was made a ward of Los Angeles Juvenile Court. He was placed in a series of group homes and foster families. He learned English and finished high school.

When he reached 18, he got residency documents, Castillo said.

Marcelo Mosquera, a machinist from Ecuador, and his wife, Nora, were the last couple that sheltered the teenager. They cared for two younger foster children, as well, at their home in Lomita. Neighbors said that Gutierrez acted as the big brother.

Gutierrez talked of becoming an architect but put college plans on hold to join the Marine Corps. Jackie Baker, the Mosqueras’ adult daughter, said that Gutierrez “wanted to give the United States what the United States gave to him. He came with nothing. This country gave him everything.”

As of yesterday, 3,930 American servicemen and women, and about 88,000 civilians have died in the Iraq war.
(info from USA Today, Iraq Body Count, Dep't of Defense)

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