Monday, August 09, 2010

Marine Sgt. Jose L. Saenz III

Remember Our Heroes

Marine Sgt. Jose L. Saenz III, 30, of Pleasanton, Texas

Sgt. Saenz was assigned to 1st Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; died Aug. 9, 2010 in Helmand province, Afghanistan, while supporting combat operations.

PLEASANTON — To his family, Sgt. Jose Luis Saenz III was just about everything — a U.S. Marine, a prankster, an only son and a twin brother.

More than anything, relatives said, Saenz was fearless, the kind of person who stayed strong even in the toughest of times.

This week, his family struggled to follow Saenz's example, after learning the Marine sergeant had been killed Monday in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. He was on his third tour of duty with the Marines.

Saenz was the second GI from the San Antonio area killed in Afghanistan within a week. Army Pfc. John Andrade, 19, was killed Friday after he was hit with an IED. “I feel like it's still a dream, and I want to wake up,” said Saenz's mother, Leonor Saenz, Wednesday afternoon. Then she broke into a deep, long sob.

Saenz, who deployed to Afghanistan in May, was leading his unit on routine patrol when he was killed. He had stepped out of his vehicle before his group to make sure the unit was safe, a sister said.

His family learned of his death Monday afternoon, when military personnel arrived at his parents' home northwest of Pleasanton.

“We were all just screaming,” said his sister Patricia.

His mother cried and yelled at the military officials to leave. “Why did you come here?” she had demanded. “You have the wrong house.”

His niece, Brianna, 8, who remained inconsolable Wednesday, sent his phone number a text: “Come back home please.”

A 1999 graduate of Pleasanton High School, Saenz left behind a wife and a 5-year-old son, Jose IV. His widow and son traveled with his parents to Dover AFB in Delaware on Tuesday to meet his casket. They returned home Wednesday afternoon.

His remains will be brought back to Texas later this week, his mother said. Plans for funeral services were pending.

Saenz, who was also known as Joey, moved with his parents and three sisters from San Antonio to Pleasanton in 1995, where he became a member of the high school football team.

After high school, he worked in various positions as a mechanic, including a stint at Wal-Mart, where he met his wife. She worked in the store's jewelry department.

He joined the Marines in 2002.

“It was his calling,” said his twin sister, Bettina. “He always said that's what he was meant for.”

The Marines proved to be a guiding force in his life, prompting him to re-enlist four years ago. This was his first time in Afghanistan, after tours in Okinawa and Iraq, Patricia said.

Throughout all of his deployments, Saenz made a point to stay in touch with his large family, scheduling four-way phone calls every Friday, when he would relentlessly tease his sisters.

But Wednesday afternoon, Bettina recalled a different kind of phone call, the last one they shared.

"He was more stern than joking,” she said, remembering his tense call from last week, a rare indication the he was under stress. “He wasn't joking around.”
Even before he left for Afghanistan, his twin sister had the sense something was wrong. For the first time, she dreamed about her brother's death.

“I knew he wasn't going to come home the way I wanted him to come home,” she said.

Her brother suspected what she was thinking, and he told her he had dreamed the same thing.

But Saenz said his tour in Afghanistan had started to pass more quickly. Now, he dreamed about fajitas and the party he hoped to throw upon his return home in November.

He had also begun to consider civilian life seriously, now that he was a father, Bettina said. He talked about moving back to Pleasanton, where he and his twin sister could raise their young sons together.

Instead, Saenz's parents, widow and son returned to Texas from Delaware without him.

They arrived home to see a memorial to Saenz growing rapidly at the front entrance of their property.

Then, after a tearful reunion with her daughters, it was time for Leonor Saenz to go to the funeral home and begin planning her son's services.

“He wore his uniform with a lot of honor,” she said Wednesday. And now she would remember him that way. As she left for the funeral home, Leonor put on a T-shirt made in Saenz's honor and a black baseball cap.

Across the top, it read “Proud Mom of a U.S. Marine.”

Marine Sgt. Jose L. Saenz III was killed in action on 8/9/10.

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