Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Army Cpl. Victor H. Toledo Pulido

Remember Our Heroes

Army Cpl. Victor H. Toledo Pulido, 22, of Hanford, Calif.

Cpl. Pulido was assigned to 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized), Fort Benning, Ga.; died May 23 in al Nahrawan, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. Also killed was Cpl. Jonathan D. Winterbottom.

Army Cpl. Victor H. Toledo-Pulido, 22, Hanford; one of two soldiers killed in blast
By Matt Lait and Hector Becerra, Times Staff Writers

Though he wasn't a U.S. citizen, Army Cpl. Victor H. Toledo-Pulido's patriotism for his adopted country was undeniable, friends and family members said.

As a teenager, the Mexican immigrant befriended servicemen while working at a restaurant on a military base in Lemoore, south of Fresno. He joined the California Army National Guard and soon decided to pursue a career in the Army.

In March, the 22-year-old resident of Hanford, east of Lemoore, was deployed to Iraq.

On May 23, he was one of two soldiers killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in Nahrawan, Iraq, southeast of Baghdad. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division (Mechanized) at Ft. Benning, Ga.

Toledo-Pulido's mother, Maria Gaspar, said that she tried to dissuade her son from joining the Army but that he was determined to volunteer. "I told him I did not approve. We all told him," she said. "He was my youngest; he was my baby. And since he was born, I overprotected him. [But] he was grown up, and he wanted to mature and make his own decisions."

Growing up in the Central Valley, he was keenly aware that he was not an American citizen, but "he loved this country," his mother said. "He said, 'This is my country.' "

Toledo-Pulido was about 7 years old when a smuggler helped him and his older brother and mother cross over the mountains along the California border into the United States. He became a legal resident in 1999. Like many undocumented immigrants, he worked hard jobs at a young age. He toiled in the fields of the Central Valley with an uncle, picking grapes and other crops. Later, he took jobs as a restaurant cook.

Family members said they didn't know why, but Toledo-Pulido always showed an interest in joining the military.

Gaspar said she last saw her son in March as he and hundreds of soldiers left Ft. Benning for Iraq. He told her that no matter where he went, she would always be with him. He went over the good times and the bad times of their lives, as if paging through a family album.

"He talked like he knew something was going to happen," his mother said.

Toledo-Pulido, the father of a 1 1/2 -year-old boy, called home regularly from Iraq and spoke with his wife and other family members. "The last time we talked, we didn't say much, because we both just cried," his mother said. "He told me that he missed me and that he loved me a lot and that he was fine. I told him to take care of himself. I told him he was my baby and my little boy and that he would never stop being my baby. He said, 'Yes, Mom, I am your baby.' "

In the early morning hours of May 23, Toledo-Pulido and others in his platoon were awakened and given a mission to retrieve a military vehicle that had just been hit by an explosive. After concluding the mission, the team started driving back to their base. Minutes into the trip, their vehicle was hit by a tremendous explosion.

Army Capt. Troy Thomas, who was in the vehicle, was sent flying through the air. Miraculously, he was unscathed. But when he looked back to check on the others in the vehicle, he saw Toledo-Pulido's lifeless body slumped over the steering wheel. Another soldier was also mortally wounded in the blast.

"It is hard to explain the rush of emotion in a time like that," Thomas wrote in an e-mail to The Times. "People should not have to experience that feeling. It is because of brave human beings like Victor that war is only witnessed by a few so that the majority can live free and never experience what I felt that day."

Thomas said he would never forget him or the American values he stood for. He said Toledo-Pulido was a "Mexican citizen voluntarily serving in our armed forces at a time when you hear more about illegal immigration on TV than the war itself."

"What does it take to prove your worth as an American?" Thomas asked. "Well, if you ask me … Victor Toledo-Pulido showed his worth by serving his nation and his family."

Toledo-Pulido's brother Yosio Toledo, 29, said he gets angry when people portray immigrants as people who just take and give nothing back. He said his brother had friends who were also immigrants going through basic training and serving in Iraq. "They judge us and say we just come to take their jobs and positions, but we also make sacrifices," he said. "Victor worked since he was little, in the fields and in restaurants. He was a Mexican, but he thought like an American. And he gave his life for this country."

Gaspar said she is proud of her son, an "immigrant who gave his life for this country, and who did so with joy."

In addition to his mother and Yosio, he is survived by his wife, Christi; his son, Isak; his stepfather, Paz Gaspar Noriega; his brother Gaston Toledo-Pulido; and his sister, Maria McGee.

Army Cpl. Victor H. Toledo Pulido was killed in action on 5/23/07.

1 comment:

Roberto Iza Valdes said...

What a beautiful tribute. God bless.