Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Army Cpl. Steven I. Candelo

Remember Our Heroes

Army Cpl. Steven I. Candelo, 20, of Houston

Cpl. Candelo was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, Vilseck, Germany; died March 26, 2007 in Baghdad when his vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Houston Chronicle -- Cpl. Steven Candelo grew up with dreams of becoming a soldier.

His sisters recall his desire to wear a uniform from the time he was a toddler. His closest childhood friend remembered playing war games with Candelo when they were boys and pretending the firecrackers they tossed on the Fourth of July were bombs.

Now Candelo, 20, has become the ultimate hero in uniform — giving his life for his country while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Elsik High School graduate — who was engaged to be married, owned his own home and was the first in his family to sign up for college — died March 26 in Baghdad when a rocket-propelled grenade struck his vehicle.

His family takes comfort knowing Candelo died doing what he loved.

"There's pain inside of me," said Candelo's mother, Julia Martinez. "But I'm proud of him. He was my only boy. ... He was a real good son.

"I always told him, 'Take care, because if you lose your life, it will be like I'm losing mine.' He said, 'Don't worry, Mom. Everything's going to be OK,' " Martinez said tearfully.

For Candelo, the U.S. Army wasn't just a stepping stone — he planned for it to be his lifelong career. And the war being fought in Iraq only strengthened his resolve. His family can't recall him showing any fear of combat.

"He wasn't scared of anything, actually," said his sister, 17-year-old Ivanna Candelo.

"He thought he was doing his job to protect the (Iraqi) people," said his other sister, 15-year-old Erica Candelo.

Neighbors in the family's southwest Harris County neighborhood off Addicks Clodine Road have shown their support, adorning their yards with yellow ribbons.

Steven Candelo was still in high school when he joined the U.S. Army three years ago. Assigned to the 1st Squadron, 2nd Stryker Calvary Regiment, he was first stationed in Vilseck, Germany.

After making his final visit home to Houston for a two-week period between the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, Candelo departed for Iraq in December.

He had planned for a future in Houston, purchasing the home next door to his mother's about six months ago.

"We talked every week, every two weeks," Martinez said. Though she was fearful for her son's well-being in Iraq, she said, "I tried to support him because he loved it."

They last spoke two days before his death. "He said, 'Take care of my sisters, take care of the parrot,' " Martinez said, referring to the pet her son gave her for a Christmas gift during his final visit home. "He said, 'I love you.' "

Candelo's remains are expected to be returned to Houston on Thursday or Friday, his family says. At that time, they will begin planning his funeral service.

Among those waiting to welcome Candelo home is his fiancee and high school sweetheart, Erica Vasquez, 19, who has worn his engagement ring for a year.

On Tuesday, the University of Houston-Downtown student proudly showed the wedding band she had purchased for Candelo for their planned nuptials next year.

"All my crying and everything won't bring him back," said Vasquez, her voice breaking with emotion. "I know he's in a better place. Of course, I am proud of him. I will always love him until the day I die."

Army Cpl. Steven I. Candelo was killed in action on 3/26/08.

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