Marine O.C.'s first to die in Iraq
Jose Garibay's mother was informed of his death, but details weren't released.
By VALERIA GODINES
U.S. Marine Jose Angel Garibay, Orange County's first combat casualty
in Iraq, was proud to be an American,
but he was just as proud to be Mexican. In his last letter to his mother, he asked her to send him a Vicente
Fernandez CD because he missed Mexican music.
He never got to hear it.
Authorities knocked on his mother's door at 7 a.m. Monday at her west-side
Costa Mesa home to inform her
that Garibay, 21, died in combat somewhere in Iraq.
"I just sat down and cried. It was so sad. He's my son. I love him,"
Simona Garibay, Jose Angel's mother, said
as she sat near a shrine to her son.
"I always supported my son because it was his desire to go over there
and serve. He was proud of the United
States. There are racists who discriminate against Mexicans but they don't realize that they give their lives, too."
His family was unsure of the details surrounding his death but they
expect his body to be home in the next few
days. His death has been confirmed by family, but the Pentagon had not officially released his name as of
KMEX-TV Univision 34 reported that the Marine handled mortars and missiles
and was stationed at Camp
Garibay, aside from being the county's first casualty, was one of the
growing numbers of Latinos serving in the
military. The handsome, well-built young man was born in Los Tecomates, Jalisco, Mexico, but was raised in
Costa Mesa. He was not yet a U.S. citizen.
In many ways, Garibay was very American. He played football at Newport
Harbor High School, where he
graduated. He attended Whittier Elementary School in Costa Mesa. He excelled at mathematics. He loved
hanging out with his friends, listening to rock 'n' roll. The friendly young man loved comedies, and loved to joke
around himself at family reunions. U.S. flags adorn the house.
But Garibay loved his Mexican roots, too. He spoke perfect Spanish.
He listened to rock en espanol and he
adored ranchera tunes. He watched television in Spanish as well as in English. And he loved going back to
visit his ranchito in Mexico.
"He was very proud to be Mexican," said Urbano Garibay, Jose Angel's
uncle. "He always spoke Spanish to us.
But look at the American flags around the house. He was a typical Latino. He worked hard, wanted to buy a
house for his mother. He wanted to come home after the war and be a police officer."
Simona Garibay, a hospital housekeeper who is a single mother, has two
other children, ages 16 and 18.
Jose Angel Garibay also had two siblings in Mexico, family members said. They said his father lives in Santa
Garibay enlisted in the U.S. Marines shortly after high school.
His mother came to this country as an undocumented immigrant in 1979
and settled in Costa Mesa alongside
other people from her village. She and Jose Angel eventually became legal residents, and he had plans to
become a U.S. citizen in the near future. While growing up in Costa Mesa, Garibay and his family moved from
apartments to rental homes.
On Monday, the family, numb from the news, sat in the living room of
the modest two-bedroom, brown stucco
home that Simona Garibay rents on Arbor Street. Television camera crews and print reporters paraded in and
out throughout the day.
Simona Garibay, seated on a couch that was draped in a serape, trembled
at times and could barely speak. At
times, she stared at the ground while tears streamed down her face. She slowly moved to the kitchen and ate
steaming soup with tortillas to calm her nerves.
A large portrait of Garibay in his Newport Harbor High School football
uniform hung in the living room, near
another large photo of him in his military uniform. Candles flickered near the photo, underneath a portrait of La
Virgen de Guadalupe.
Family members said Garibay's girlfriend is also a U.S. Marine and is serving overseas in the war.
A Mass is planned at St. Joachim Catholic Church in Costa Mesa when
Garibay's body is returned. Family
members plan to bury him in Orange County.
While his family said they were proud of his service to the United States, some questioned the war.
"It's not worth it. There has to be a better way to resolve this," said
Reyes Garibay, Jose Angel's uncle. Reyes
Garibay, a gardener, said his 16-year-old son wants to enlist in the Marines in two years, and that worries him.
"But I will support him in whatever he does," he added.
Last year, 357 Orange County Latinos shipped out to boot camps – more
than double the 138 who joined the
service in 1990. By comparison, the number of non-Hispanic white recruits from Orange County rose 10
percent to 627 during the same period.
Latinos make up 30 percent of the county, and the population continues
to grow rapidly. And many young men
and women, particularly from financially strapped households, see the military as a way to advance their
education and career.
During the 1991 gulf war, the only Orange County fatality was Mexican-American.
Of the 389 Orange County
people killed in conflicts since the Korean War, 52 – or about 13 percent – had Latino surnames, That's
disproportionate, considering Latinos made up about 8 percent of the military in 2000.