THE WESTERN FRONT
Jos� Antonio Gutierrez
He was an American hero. Now he's an American.
BY BRENDAN MINITER
Friday, April 4, 2003 12:01 a.m.
One of the first U.S. soldiers to die in Iraq was not an American
citizen. He'd come here illegally as a teenager. His name was Jos�
Antonio Gutierrez. He was killed on March 21 by enemy fire while trying
to secure Umm Qasr, a port vital for humanitarian aid. He was a
22-year-old lance corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps.
It's easy to discount talk of the American dream as hyperbole, a clich�
carelessly tossed about. But then there are people like Gutierrez, whose
whole life proved that the naysayers were wrong. It is possible to
escape the oppression of your circumstances. It's no coincidence that he
joined the Marines, whose motto is "semper fidelis." Gutierrez remained
always faithful to the dream that inspires the best within us. And for
this he is an American hero.
Gutierrez was born in Guatemala, but he told his American foster family
only an outline of his life there. It's easy to see the pain in the
omitted text. His mother died when he was three. Five years later his
father was dead. He left school to work a series of odd jobs to buy food
for himself and his sister, Engracia. He learned about the U.S. from an
American aid worker at a shelter.
Then "the mentor left," explains Lillian Cardenas--one of his foster
sisters--so Gutierrez decided to head for America by stowing away on
freight trains. He got stuck in Mexico for a couple of years, crossing
into California when he was 14. He was determined to see Los Angeles.
Somehow he ended up in Hollywood.
He slept on park benches and got food from a shelter. An alert social
worker enrolled him in a program that helped him gain legal residency
and placed him with a foster family. The first placement didn't work
out. Neither did the second or the third. Finally in 2000, he came to
live with Nora and Marcelo Mosquera (themselves immigrants from Costa
Rica and Ecuador).
The Mosqueras have three "biological" children, but have cared for more
than two dozen foster children over the years, some of whom they've
adopted. They never adopted Gutierrez, but on Mother's Day last year he
wrote home and "formally" asked if he could call them mom and dad.
He never forgot Engracia, often calling or sending her money. But he
reached new heights with the Mosqueras. They pressured him to learn
English (in frustration he'd say he just wanted to learn enough "to get
by"). He had a strong faith in God and would urge his siblings to go to
church--they were all Catholic. He was a private person, but would
jokingly tell the family that someday "people will know my name." After
high school he was recruited to play soccer for nearby Harbor College.
There he began studying architecture.
Gutierrez loved America and talked about giving something back by
enlisting in the Army. A few months after Sept. 11, he surprised
everyone by announcing he'd joined the Marines. The Army recruiter just
wasn't as convincing, he told them. After he graduated from Parris
Island in March 2002, the Marines became another family for him.
"You always had to take the big car when you picked up Jos�," Mrs.
Cardenas recalls. "I have a little Acura, and once drove it the 90
minutes to Camp Pendleton to pick him up," she said chuckling. He was
waiting there with five buddies. "Honestly, I have to tell you that
you're not all going to fit." Sometimes he'd show up for dinner with as
many as 30 Marines. "There were Marines everywhere," she said, but they
were all welcome. "Whenever you'd have him around, you didn't have a
worry in the world."
He knew the danger that awaited him in the Gulf. Before leaving, he
asked his foster family to take care of Engracia. "You're her family
now," he said. But Mrs. Cardenas also remembers why he was willing to go
to war. "From what I've seen," Saddam has to be confronted, he told
them. "It's my job. It's also my duty."
Gutierrez, along with Jos� Angel Garibay--a Marine killed on March 23
battling for Nasiriyah--has now been awarded citizenship posthumously.
Mr. Miniter is assistant editor of OpinionJournal.com. His column
Copyright � 2003 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
R.W. "Dick" Gaines
GySgt USMC (Ret.)
Gunny G's Old Salt Marines Tavern
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