View Full Version : Marine ~ The pride and the price of service

05-13-04, 10:01 AM
Woman mourns fallen Marine
Blossoming romance cut short in Iraqi desert


Gary Van Leuven

CHINO HILLS - When Jacqueline Trujillo met Marine Lance Cpl. Gary Van Leuven in November, she knew he was the one for her.

Six months later, the Chino Hills resident also knew immediately she had lost her fiance when she heard news of soldiers being ambushed and killed near the Iraqi-Syrian border.

Van Leuven - from Klamath Falls, Ore. - was with Weapons Platoon, Lima Co., 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, stationed in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, near the Syrian border when he was killed April 17, said Trujillo. His unit was trying to prevent anti-coalition fighters from slipping into the country, she said.

It was love at first sight, recalled Trujillo, a 2003 Ayala High School graduate. It quickly became an engagement in February.

But when the Marines called, Van Leuven answered.


"Gary was the type of guy, even his mom said, he needed to do something. He thought it was his duty for his country and to make a better life for himself," Trujillo said on Wednesday.

Trujillo met the 20-year-old at a Marine Corps ball in early November that she was pushed into attending. Though she was there with a Marine friend of Van Leuven's, he noticed her right away, she said.

"His mother told me that he called her (a few days after the ball) and said he just met a "20,'" she said, laughing over the memory.

Based at Twentynine Palms, Van Leuven and some of his Marine buddies soon became frequent visitors to the Chino Hills home, said Jacqueline's father, Francisco Trujillo.

"They are men during the week, and kids on the weekends," said the 47-year-old. "My wife and I felt we owed them something because they were doing something for us."

Since most of the soldiers were young and far from home, the Trujillos invited Van Leuven and others for the holidays and trips around Southern California, while carefully watching the blossoming romance between Jacqueline and Gary. But Francisco's skepticism was quickly dismissed.

"He treated my daughter with respect. He reminded me of me; I was always that way with my wife," he said.

When Van Leuven was on exercises, he always brought his cell phone to say good night to her even though it was against the rules, Jacqueline Trujillo said.

After he was shipped off to Iraq in February for his second tour of duty, Trujillo carried her phone all the time, in case he called.

On April 17, according to news reports, Van Leuven - who had been awarded a Purple Heart just a month before - and his platoon were involved in a 14-hour battle with Iraqi insurgents.

Five Marines were killed, including Van Leuven.

Trujillo said Van Leuven, who wanted to be a teacher after getting out of the service, still believed in what he was doing despite the escalating violence.

"I keep wondering if we would have gotten married before being deployed, would he have been more careful," she said. "People are dying over there and they all had lives they wanted to fulfill, but they can't now. He wanted to fulfill his job for his country first."

In an e-mail sent to Trujillo two days before he was killed, Van Leuven teased her and sent her his love.

"I love you with all my heart. I know you are the woman I will be with forever and that makes me happy. I just hope you don't change your mind about me, just joking. I know you love me but (anyway) just writing to say that I love you and will talk to you later," he wrote.

Van Leuven was buried more than two weeks ago. There will be a memorial service next week at his alma mater - Mazama High School in Klamath Falls.

Edward Barrera can be reached by e-mail edward.barrera@dailybulletin.com or by phone at (909) 483-9356.