Escondido family mourns its Marine,|
a 'man of honor'
By Daniel J. Chacün and Blanca
UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITERS
March 29, 2003
ESCONDIDO – Fernando Suárez de Solar moved his family from Tijuana less than a decade ago in the hope of securing a better life on the U.S. side of the border.
Yesterday, he struggled with that decision after learning that his only son, Jesús , who joined the Marines after he graduated from Escondido's Valley High School in 2001, died on a battlefield in Iraq.
"I feel terrible because if I wouldn't have brought them here, this wouldn't have happened," he said, hugging a large framed photograph of his son in his Marine dress blues.
A stream of family and friends, many of whom traveled from Tijuana, spilled into the family's apartment in tears, unable to talk. The family closed the door, saying the Marine's mother felt overwhelmed.
"How is this fair?" asked Suárez's grandfather, Raúl Navarro Alcazar, 75. "I can't explain it. He was such a good boy."
Fernando Suárez said his son's death should serve as an example to those who belittle Mexican immigrants.
"We didn't come as immigrants to take anything from anyone," he said. "It's the opposite. We give our blood for their freedom."
The Suárez family learned of their son's death yesterday morning, when two Marines showed up at their door. "Your son is a hero," one Marine said in Spanish. "He died on the battlefield in Iraq."
"They told me, 'It happened at night,' " Suárez said.
He won't get any more details for two to nine days.
A lance corporal, Suárez was assigned to the 1st Marine Division based at Camp Pendleton.
"He always wanted to help people," his father said. "He always wanted to help everyone."
Suárez, 20, married his longtime girlfriend, Sayne, also 20, in December. They also had a baby, Erik.
Suárez was born and raised in Tijuana. He immigrated to the United States in the late 1990s with his father, mother and two sisters. The family settled in Escondido, where Suárez attended San Pasqual High School.
He then transferred to Valley High School, where staff yesterday remembered him as a good kid with a winning smile who focused on having a military career.
"He was so bright and so mature," said Principal Janice Boedeker, who had the flag outside the school lowered to half-staff yesterday.
Boedeker said one of Suárez's former teachers told her she had bumped into Suárez, his wife and their baby at a mall recently. She said he told her he had been in Afghanistan and that he loved being in the military.
"He was so excited about being a part of the infantry and the Marine Corps," Boedeker said. "I always ask kids about their goals what they want to do. There was never a question with him. I remember he wrote in big, capital letters: MARINES."
Suárez returned to the campus several times after he graduated. Counselor Rhonda Winegarner said he would visit the school with Marine recruiters and spoke at the school's 9/11 ceremony last year, commemorating those who died in the terrorist attacks.
"He was quite eloquent and spoke about what an honor it was to serve our country," she said, her voice breaking. "He had a smile that could steal your heart."
Tom Gabriella, one of Suárez's teachers, remembers Suárez's senior project.
"It was a power point presentation on the military – what it takes to be successful, what it teaches you," Gabriella said.
A couple of weeks ago, Suárez visited the campus in uniform and told Gabriella he was heading to Kuwait. "I kind of grimaced and told him to be careful."
Suárez's family told him to fight hard and to help the wounded, even the enemy.
Longtime family friend Gloria González of Tijuana said that as Mexicans, many of the people mourning Suárez's death were against war. Yet they respected Suárez's beliefs.
"He died for what he thought was just," she said. "Not many people would die for what they believe. He was very brave. My only hope is that his death won't be in vain."
Suárez's father said his son understood the risk of being a Marine.
"He said, 'Dad, if something happens to me, take care of my son. Teach him like you taught me,'" his father said. "He was always proud to be Mexican. That's how I want my grandson to remember him. He was a man of honor."
A few days ago, Fernando Suárez e-mailed a letter to his son, asking him to be careful and to remember his values.
"Wear your American soldier's uniform with pride, but wear with even greater pride your heritage of an Aztec warrior," he wrote.
Fernando Suárez said his son died defending the values of his newfound country.
"He died like a hero. I have no doubts about that."
Jesús Suárez de Solar.
|Letter from home|
Fernando Suárez de Solar shared a copy of an e-mail letter he wrote this week to his son Jesús , a 20-year-old Marine fighting in Iraq with the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Marine Division. The family, which lives in Escondido, was notified yesterday morning that Jesús had been killed.
Letter to my soldier son,
Today I want to write something about the current situation that the United States finds itself involved in.
I'm referring to its ominous war against Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein. The United States has sent thousands of military men and women, who have parted from their bases leaving behind families, a mother, a father, spouses and children. They are mostly young, barely past 20 years old, and some of them are Latino.
I don't want to, nor dare to, offer an opinion about this war, if it's well-founded or not, if President Bush has reason on his side or not. I only know that many Latino parents and wives and children will be crying, filled with fear knowing that within this great army is a family member in mortal danger, not knowing if those fortunate youngsters who return will be whole, physically as well as mentally.
That's why, Jesús , my son, I want to tell you so many things that fill my head and heart. I want you to remember, above all, the moral values you inherited from your Hispanic roots, and the respect for others. Above all, always remember that you are not an assassin; be disciplined, don't abuse the enemy, but don't be a coward either. Be firm, but not merciless; don't take advantage of a person who is weak, even if he is the enemy. Be a humanitarian: Always help your fallen companions, and help the injured no matter what side they are on.
Wear your American soldier's uniform with pride, but wear with even greater pride your heritage of an Aztec warrior. No matter what happens, you will always have here, in this small corner of the world, your father, your mother and family.
Son, take good care of yourself, be brave and strong of spirit so we will have the fortune of having you return to us, without honors, without medals, but alive.
With love and great pride,