Monday, March 01, 2010

Marine Lance Cpl. Carlos A. Aragon

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Lance Cpl. Carlos A. Aragon, 19, of Orem, Utah

LCpl Aragon was assigned to 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve, based out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died March 1, 2010 while supporting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Lance Cpl. Carlos A. Aragon, 19, was a quiet, respectful young man who loved '70s rock music and trucks and who knew the dangers of service in Afghanistan.

"He understood what it was all about," said Aragon's stepfather, Brad Halliday. "Before he left on his final deployment, he said, 'Dad, whatever happens, it's in the Lord's hands. If he wants me to come home, I'll come home.' "

At the same time, he had told his family he probably wouldn't re-enlist. "He just didn't like saying goodbye," Halliday said.

Halliday, his wife and Aragon's mother, Rosa, and other family members were in Delaware at Dover Air Force Base Wednesday when Aragon's remains were returned to the United States in a transfer ceremony Halliday described as "extremely respectful."

Aragon died Monday in Helmand province. Halladay said the family was told that although Aragon was primarily a diesel mechanic and driver, he was on a foot patrol in an Afghan village when he stepped on a pressure-activated homemade explosive. He was killed instantly.

Halliday said the family expects his body to be returned to Utah Saturday. Funeral services will be held in Lehi, but details are pending.

Aragon was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, but came to Orem as a young boy and remained there until he graduated from Mountain View High School in 2008.

Teachers at Mountain View High School remember Aragon as a quiet, friendly student who stood out because of unruly brown hair that hung down to his shoulders.

"He was a respectful, quiet kid, but he got A's in my class and was able to put down on paper some really deep thoughts that were kind of surprising," said assistant principal J. Peter Glahn, who taught sociology when Aragon was a junior at the school. "He had that long hair, but he was a gentle, nice kid."

The school is planning a moment of silence to honor Aragon.

Halliday said Aragon liked to challenge himself. "In high school he liked climbing the trails behind Bridal Veil Falls all the way to the top," he said.

He liked the idea of four-wheeling, although he couldn't afford a vehicle when he was in high school. As a result he enjoyed driving light armored vehicles. "They drive them fast over there. He liked the challenge," Halliday said. "He was the mechanic, but they asked him to drive."

He told his family he was focused on safety.

"He would call every couple of weeks and he would say, 'I'm staying with the vehicle and I'm ready to go,' " Halliday said.

Angela Cottrell, who had known Aragon since she was his Cub Scout den leader and whose son, Jason, was one of Aragon's closest friends, said Aragon was a "wonderful, wonderful young man. He was not a rebellious kid at all, just a penny pincher. He said he was saving money to buy a car, and so he didn't spend his money on haircuts."

Robert Gardner, who was the bishop in Aragon's Orem LDS ward, said Aragon was a good example. "He was just a great friend. He really inspired a lot of his friends to do what is right," Gardner said.

Honors for Aragon came from the Utah Senate, where at the start of Wednesday's session, senators observed a moment of silence in his memory at the request of Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem.

Gov. Gary Herbert issued a statement honoring Aragon: "The state of Utah will never forget this young Marine, who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving his country in Afghanistan. His selfless and faithful service is an example to all of us.

"Jeanette and I offer our deepest gratitude for Lance Corporal Aragon's sacrifice on behalf of the people of Utah, and we extend our prayers to this young man's family," Herbert said.

It was a wonderful and wistful plan. Two friends, as close as brothers, would pack into an old car and turn the wheels toward the rising sun. Carlos Aragon and Hector Castillo would drive through the day and through the night, radio blaring as they sped across the plains.

Their destination: Indiana. Their goal: To find Aragon's long-estranged father. Their only obstacles: A little bit of money and a little bit of time.

Aragon was hoping to make the trip after returning from his schooling as a light armored vehicle mechanic for the Marine Corps. But within weeks of the end of his training, the reservist's unit was called into the fight in Afghanistan. Now the hoped-for journey is over.

Aragon, a 19-year-old Marine lance corporal from Orem, who once wrote that his heroes were "people that give their life for others without hesitation," was killed Monday in a roadside bomb explosion in the volatile southern Helmand province of Afghanistan.

Castillo learned of the news on Monday night. Two days later, he was still struggling to accept what had happened. "People thought we were cousins -- and even though we weren't, we never corrected them," he said. "In fact, that doesn't even come close. We were brothers. I'm heartbroken."

Both young men had grown up without fathers. "And so we were always there for each other," Castillo said. "His mom called us 'salt and pepper,' and when I called on the phone, sometimes she thought I was her own son."

Castillo said he is sorry that he has missed the opportunity to embark on the Indiana quest with his friend. Now, he said, he simply wants to remember the memories they do share: Skateboarding through town, playing guitar into the night, and talking on the phone together from opposite sides of the globe.

When they last spoke, a few days before Aragon's death, they spent hours talking about "everything and nothing at all."

"Then he told me, 'OK, I'll call you next weekend,' and that was it -- we'll never talk again."

Even if there was much left undone, Castillo said, he feels fortunate that they left nothing unsaid.

Marine Lance Cpl. Carlos A. Aragon was killed in action on 3/1/10.

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