This week marks the 10th anniversary of the beginning of the war in Iraq.
In the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, 729 California servicemen and servicewomen have been killed.
One of the first to die was Jose Garibay from Costa Mesa. In a letter to his girlfriend before he was killed March 23, 2003, he wrote: "We are freedom's answer to fear. We do not bargain with terror. We stalk it, corner it, take aim and kill it."
The Times in 2003 took an in-depth look into his life as part of a series on "Green Card Solders," miltary men who were not citizens of the United States:
The snapshot came straight from the deck of the Navy ship Ponce as it sailed toward Iraq.
He was wearing his Marine fatigues, shiny black boots and the baddest pair of sunglasses. With a pistol in his right hand, he had never looked so menacing.
Toshia Hooven, his girlfriend back home, wondered if it was all a charade.
Only two weeks earlier, on a car ride near Camp Lejeune, Jose Garibay had talked a mile a minute about dying. He had told Hooven he was having nightmares again about the fighting to come in Iraq. He had promised he'd keep his head down but told her that, if a bullet found him, he wanted his casket open.
She knew that all his life -- in a tiny village in Mexico, in his home in Costa Mesa and in the Marine camp in North Carolina where he was known as Gummi Bear -- he had taken on different personas as a way to get by.
Over the years, he had hidden his Mexican heritage, separating himself from his family to find his way in America. Like a chameleon, he had melted into the landscape of the other side.
Now, on the eve of battle, 22-year-old Jose had steeled himself with a new identity. "We are freedom's answer to fear," he wrote to Hooven. "We do not bargain with terror. We stalk it, corner it, take aim and kill it."
It was a voice she did not recognize.
On the fifth day of the war, he was in Nasiriyah and encountered a group of Iraqis pretending to be something they weren't. Caught by surprise in an ambush by enemy soldiers making gestures of surrender, Jose died with six other Marines.
The Orange County Register recently caught up with Garibay's mother on the 10th anniversary of his death: "That war was unnecessary," she said.
You can read the stories of California' War Dead on The Times' page dedicated to them. Here is some data gleened from the pages:
- Buchanan High (Clovis) 7
- Hemet High (Hemet) 5
- Simi Valley High (Simi Valley) 4
- Leuzinger High (Lawndale) 4
Photo: Candles and flowers frame a picture of Jose Angel Garibay, 21, inside the living room of his mother's Costa Mesa home in 2003. Credit: Marc Martin / Los Angeles Times