California's Iraq and Afghanistan war dead remembered

Written By kolimtiga on Minggu, 11 November 2012 | 12.56

They came from Walker Basin, a speck of a community at the edge of the Sequoia National Forest. From the farm town of Reedley, where a barber gives boys joining the military free haircuts before they ship out.

They came from San Francisco. Los Angeles. San Diego.

When they died, photos went up on post office walls in their hometowns. On Veterans Day, there are parades and charity golf tournaments. Buddies gather at graves to drink to the ones who are gone.

In the 11 years since the wars began in Iraq and Afghanistan, 725 service members from California have been killed.

Many died young — 41% were not yet 22. Sixty-three were still teenagers.

They were fun-loving singles. Forty-seven were engaged. They were married, leaving behind 307 wives and husbands. They had children — 432 sons and daughters.

Forty of their obituaries noted that the Sept. 11 attacks spurred them to join up. Some were in elementary school when they watched the Twin Towers fall.

The scope of their loss can't be measured at one point in time. Life moves on, the wars are winding down. But towns, families and individual lives continue to be shaped by their absence.

Lately, 9-year-old Naomi Izabella Johnson has been asking a lot of questions about her father, Allen Johnson, a Special Forces medical sergeant from Los Molinos who was killed on foot-combat patrol in Khanaqin, Afghanistan, in 2005.

What was his favorite color? School subject? Animal? Book? Did he like mashed potatoes?

"It helps me for when I try to imagine him," she said.

Two months ago, her 10-year-old brother, Joshua, started crying inconsolably.

"What's wrong?" his mother, Eunice Johnson, recalled asking.

"I'm starting to forget — sometimes I can't see Daddy's face."

In Yuba City, Taylor Silva, 21, has been spending some time alone. Last week marked six months since her fiance, Chase Marta, 24, was killed by a roadside bomb in the Ghazni province of Afghanistan. He was one of more than 40 California service members to have died in the line of duty since last Veterans Day.

"I know his family and best friend have it just as hard. But we're all being a little quiet to each other because we're all a reminder to each other. His mom can't see me without crying," Silva said.

Seventeen women from California have been killed in the wars.

Hannah Gunterman McKinney of Redlands had told her father that the Army wouldn't send a new mother to Iraq. But she was deployed when her son, Todd Avery Gunterman, was just 1. Ten months later, in 2006, she was run over by a Humvee in Taji, north of Baghdad. She was 20.

She had joined the military as a way to earn money to go to fashion school. She reenlisted because she was a single mother and wanted to give her son financial stability. Now her parents are raising Todd Avery.

Eighty-one of California's war dead were foreign born, coming from 21 countries. Nearly half of those started life in Mexico but called America home. At least seven were "green card" soldiers and Marines.

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