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thedrifter
02-12-06, 09:09 AM
Army Sgt. David Herrera, 26, Oceanside; Killed in Explosion While on Patrol in Baghdad
By Martha Groves, Times Staff Writer

From the house on San Simeon Street in Oceanside where he grew up, David Herrera could walk to the gate of Camp Pendleton. The military was not only next door; it was in his blood.

His paternal grandfather, Marcos, served in the Marine Corps. His father, also named Marcos, was shot down twice while serving as a helicopter crew chief in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971, and remains in the Army Reserve. Several uncles were in the Army or Marine Corps.

No one in the family was surprised, then, when David joined the Army in March 1998, a month after his beloved older brother, Marcus, enlisted. Both trained at Ft. Campbell, Ky., and both participated in the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

On Jan. 28, just weeks after beginning his second tour of duty there, Sgt. David Herrera, 26, was killed when a roadside bomb exploded, destroying the Humvee he was commanding while on patrol in Baghdad.

He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell.

The Herrera family is now invoking its proud military tradition to help them cope with their grief.

"He was a hero," said a weeping Angelina Herrera, his grandmother. "He was a soldier all the way…. We're proud of our country and every military man who gives his life for our country."

Herrera was born Oct. 29, 1979, in La Mesa, Calif., and grew up in Oceanside.

As a teenager, he was a song-and-dance man, appearing in plays at Oceanside High School, where he graduated in 1997.

"He loved music. He loved to sing and dance," his father said. Any genre would do — rock 'n' roll, cha cha, mambo, country-western, he said.

Herrera was polite, respectful and "always kindhearted," his father said.

"He was always putting his arms around us and telling us he loved us and that he was real proud to be our grandson," his grandmother said. "There was something special about David. He was a loving person."

For a time, Herrera joined his father in working with gang members to help them stay off the streets. Marcos Herrera taught his son to box, and David became an instructor who helped troubled young men channel their emotions through sport.

"He became a role model for a lot of the kids," his father said.

One year, Herrera put his skills and interests together, choreographing moves for an all-female "boxercise" class.

His father, who described himself as "a very strict and direct father," told his son he could join the military or attend college.

Just sitting around would not be an option. Although Herrera was a B student in high school, he lasted just a month at a community college and decided to join the military. His father urged the young man to set his sights beyond Camp Pendleton, the neighbor that had been such a presence in his life.

"If you join the Marines, you'll never leave the nest," Marcos Herrera recalled telling him. "You'll be here [at home] all the time."

The Army suited David, as did being stationed with his brother Marcus, 30. They were first assigned to South Korea.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Marcus was sent to Afghanistan and David to Kosovo, a province of Serbia.

As members of different brigades of the storied 101st Airborne Division, they then journeyed to Iraq to take part in the U.S. invasion. According to Marcos Herrera, David was on hand when Uday and Qusay Hussein, sons of the deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, died in a battle with U.S. troops in 2003.

While training at Ft. Campbell, Herrera would often go dancing with friends. On one such outing, he met a University of Tennessee student named Tonya. They married, set up house in Clarksville, Tenn., and had a baby, Emma, now 3, just before Herrera left to participate in the invasion of Iraq. A second daughter is due in April. Family members say Tonya will name the baby Gabriella, the name her husband had chosen.

Marcos Herrera said his son had communicated by e-mail a few times since being deployed to Baghdad just before Christmas. He commented on how comfortable the living conditions were, with hot showers, toilets and nice rooms. That was a sharp contrast to his first tour.

"He said morale was very high," his father said.

Until his son's death, Marcos Herrera had been scheduled to leave in March for Ft. Bragg, N.C., with the likelihood of then moving on to serve in Iraq. Now, he said, "I might not be able to go."

In addition to his grandfather, grandmother, father, brother, wife and daughter, Herrera is survived by his mother, Madalena, known as Maddi.

The Herreras have established a memorial fund for their son's family. Contributions may be sent to the David Herrera Memorial Fund, Pacific Marine Credit Union, Fire Mountain Branch, 2454 Vista Way, Oceanside, CA 92054.

Ellie