SATURDAY, March 29, 2003
Escondido family mourns its Marine, a ‘man of honor’ .
Mar 29 2003 By Daniel J. Chacón and Blanca Gonzalez. San Diego Union-Tribune staff writers
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 de Solar embraces one of Jesús’ boyhood friends, Joshua Josue, outside the Suárezes’ home in Escondido yesterday. Josue has just heard Jesús had been killed in Iraq. Behind them is Jesús’ grandfather, Raúl Navarro Alcazar.
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.”
'You lied, they died,' Jesús' father tells Bush
Jesús died on a battlefield in Iraq.