Monday, March 24, 2008

Army Pfc. George Delgado

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. George Delgado, 21, of Palmdale, Calif.

Pfc. Delgado was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart, Ga.; died March 24, 2008 in Baghdad, Iraq, from wounds sustained when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device on March 23. Also killed were Staff Sgt. Christopher M. Hake, Pfc. Andrew J. Habsieger and Cpl. Jose A. Rubio Hernandez.

LA Daily News -- An Army private from Palmdale was among four soldiers killed this week in Iraq in an explosion that brought to 4,000 the tally of U.S. servicemen and -women who have died in the Iraq war.

Pvt. George Delgado, 21, died Monday from wounds suffered when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device the day before - Easter Sunday.

"He was a very fun, outgoing, lovable, excited-about-life person," said Palmdale resident Alysse Pernula, 20, who met Delgado at Desert Christian High School. "He always had a smile."

She said he had talked about going into the military and was excited about the prospect.

Since he was sent to Iraq, the friends had talked online through the MySpace and Facebook Web sites. They last chatted a couple of weeks ago, Pernula said.

"I'm really just praying for his family," she said.

In a statement issued Thursday, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called Delgado a "true patriot" and ordered Capitol flags to be flown today at half-staff.

Assemblywoman Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster, and her husband, state Sen. George Runner, also a Lancaster Republican, are the founders of Desert Christian Schools.

"Our prayers go out to the family of Pvt. Delgado during this difficult time," Sharon Runner said in a statement. "The Antelope Valley lost a great American - a true patriot and protector of our freedom."

Also today, students at Desert Christian will remember Delgado at a morning assembly.

Coincidentally, another Desert Christian graduate who joined the Army, 20-year-old Patrick Lee, will be at the assembly to thank students for packages sent to him in Iraq.

Delgado joined the Army in May 2007 and was assigned in September to Fort Stewart in Georgia.

Delgado attended Palmdale High School, then transferred to Desert Christian for his senior year, graduating in 2004.

"He was a pretty quiet young man that just had a great zest for life," said Devin Thomas, Desert Christian dean of students. "Once you got to know him, he was a funny young man, a delight to be around."

The two had formed a friendship and Delgado visited after his graduation with thoughts of becoming a teacher, Thomas said. "Sometimes you get kids in and you kind of develop a bond," Thomas said. "When we got the news today, it floored us."

Principal Beth Elder spoke with Delgado's mother, who called with the news her son had died.

"She called us, which was very sweet. I don't think I could have done this. She said they're OK, but it's very hard," Elder said.

LANCASTER - Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick Lee walked through the gymnasium of Desert Christian High School on Friday morning to a standing ovation from hundreds of students.

A graduate of the Lancaster school, Lee had come to thank the students for care packages they sent last Christmas while he was in Iraq.

"It was a huge blessing for us and the Iraqi people," the 19-year-old Lee said of the candy that he shared with Iraqi children. "I just want to say thank you for all your support and all your prayers."

But Lee's visit was tinged with sadness, coming the day students learned that another school grad - U.S. Army Pvt. George Delgado - died Monday in Baghdad after his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device on Easter Sunday.

Delgado's 2004 senior portrait - complete with a fresh tuxedo - was displayed on a screen against one of the gym's walls as administrators remembered the former student and encouraged others to pray for him and his family.

Cecil Swetland, chief executive officer of Desert Christian, paused for a moment while saying Delgado's rank and name aloud.

When Delgado attended Desert Christian High School for his senior year, the school's current seniors were only in eighth grade, Swetland said - but perhaps their older siblings knew him.

And when Delgado's body is returned to the United States, Swetland said, he wants students to welcome him back to Southern California.

"Our mission is to be a support for his family and friends and to honor his memory and the sacrifice that he and so many others have made," Swetland said.

And Swetland read from Philippians 4:6-7.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God," Swetland read.

"And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

Dean of Students Devin Thomas recalled Delgado visiting the school after he had graduated and discussing his desire to become a teacher.

Thomas said he was shocked by the news of Delgado's death.

"It was tough for me to sleep," said Thomas, who took the opportunity Friday to emphasize to the school's students just how special they are.

"You are near and dear to our hearts, more than you will ever imagine," Thomas said. "We would want it no other way."

When Delgado was a senior at Desert Christian, Lee was a sophomore.

"He was a cool guy - happy, willing to help," said Lee, stationed in Iraq from July 2007 until last month.

Members of the football team stood and saluted Lee, a former center on the Desert Christian Knights squad, and recited the team chant.

"What is a knight? Brother's keeper. What is a knight? Warrior. What is a knight? Champion."

Lee, of Lancaster, joined in the second time.

Lee's fiancee, Kathy Samudio, who graduated from the high school in 2005, said she had been text-messaging and instant messaging Delgado since he went to Iraq.

"It was really difficult for him to adjust at first and then he started doing well," said Samudio, 20, of San Diego.

She said she hadn't heard from him for a few weeks and was stunned by the news that she had lost a friend.

Shock and disbelief were common emotions throughout the high school.

"It is eye-opening," said junior Brianna Bloemendaal. "In our school, we have that feeling we will be OK."

But Delgado's death is motivating her to not wait for tomorrow, she said.

"It's inspiring to see a student from here serve our country and sacrifice their lives for something bigger than themselves," said Bloemendaal, 16, of Quartz Hill.

Thomas reminded students that men like Delgado and Lee protect their freedom.

"When we stand and say the Pledge of Allegiance, it is not something that is taken very lightly," he said. "It is something that people are standing and fighting for - our continued freedom, to make things much better and to keep things safe for you and for me."

After learning of Delgado's death, senior Cody Stegman, who plans to join the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation, is even more motivated to fight for his country.

"It makes me angry when it is a roadside bomb," said the 18-year-old from Rosamond. "You can't see the enemy."

But he is confident the military is his calling.

"This is for me," Stegman said. "I need to do this."

Shortly before Pvt. George Delgado deployed to Iraq, he confided to a friend that he might not return.

It was a reality that the 21-year-old Fort Stewart, Ga.,-based soldier said he understood was part of the job.

And it became reality Monday when the Army announced the deaths of Delgado and three other soldiers, a day after a roadside bomb exploded near their vehicle in Baghdad. The deaths pushed the military's count of U.S. service members killed in Iraq to 4,000.

"He would mention it. He said 'I don't know if I am coming back,'" Nolan Browning, one of Delgado's best friends, told The Associated Press.

"He said he knew the danger he faced as a soldier. He worried about it a little bit. But he knew what was expected of him."

Delgado told friends his biggest concern wasn't himself, but his family.

"That's what he worried about most," said Browning, 22. "That was a huge part of him, his family. He was more worried about his mom" than himself.

Word of Delgado's death trickled out slowly in Palmdale, Delgado's home 65 miles north of Los Angeles in the Antelope Valley. By Thursday morning, friends had begun posting memorial messages on Delgado's pages on the social networking sites Facebook and MySpace.

"I'm at a loss of words. Our memories will live with me forever. Rest in Peace my dear friend," wrote Alysse Pernula, who attended high school with Delgado.

Reached by telephone, Pernula described Delgado as "full of life."

"He was very adventurous, outgoing and fun loving," she said.

At Desert Christian High School, where Delgado graduated in 2004, Devin Thomas, the dean of discipline and incoming principal, gathered staff and students together during a lunch break to pray for Delgado and his family.

Teachers and administrators remembered a young man with "an infectious, unique sense of humor."

"From day 1, that was his personality—to laugh and to joke and to have a good time," Thomas said.

Browning said Delgado bounced between wanting to be a teacher and wanting to become a law enforcement officer. Delgado attended Antelope Valley Community College before joining the Army.

"One of the reasons he went into the military was he was searching for what he wanted to do," he said.

Browning last saw Delgado when he returned from Iraq on leave in December. Browning recalled the soldier was more confident, more disciplined than the young man he went to high school and later college with.

"He kind of found direction and purpose with the Army," Browning said.

Army Pfc. George Delgado was killed in action on 3/24/08.

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