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06-02-07, 05:56 AM
Remembering East High's fallen Marines

June 2, 2007

In the center of East Aurora High School, a little garden in the courtyard serves as a reminder of the world outside.

Here, in a school that has lost three graduates in three years to the war in Iraq, pillars are memorials and flowers are signs that the fighting overseas has struck close to home.

In 2005, Marine Lance Cpl. Hector Ramos became the first East High alumnus to die in a war since nine young men were killed in Vietnam.

After his death, the school started a "serenity garden" to memorialize those who died in service.

In the years since, two more young men from East High, Eduardo Lopez and Jesse De La Torre, were killed in Iraq.

On Friday, families and friends gathered in the courtyard to pay tribute to the three Marine lance corporals.

"Hector Ramos, Eduardo Lopez and Jesse De La Torre walked through these halls of East Aurora High School, graduated from this school and went out to change the world," said East High junior Rene Salgado, a Naval Junior ROTC cadet commander who spoke during the sunny afternoon ceremony. "They not only changed our world with their bravery, they changed our school forever."

As three grieving mothers wiped their eyes, the school dedicated a pillar and rose bush in the garden to each of the men.

On one pillar is the photograph of De La Torre, the most recently fallen East High Marine. De La Torre was a saxophone player who often carried his Bible to class. He graduated in 1998 and died April 16, at the age of 29.

"The sadness is still here, but I'm just proud that he is such a good person," said his mother, Raquel De La Torre, after the dedication.

On another pillar is the photograph of Lopez, a talkative young man who loved paintball and cracking jokes. Lopez also graduated in 2003 and died Oct. 19, 2006, at the age of 21.

"Day to day, I have my downfalls, and it hurts. It hurts so much," said his mother, Martha Lopez. "But I feel happy today. He is here with me, and he is watching. ... He knows I am so proud of him."

At the third pillar, Nancy Ramos stood after the ceremony, reaching out to the photograph of her son. Hector Ramos, a talented actor and artist at East High, graduated in 2003 and died on Jan. 27, 2005, at the age of 20.

Though her loss is the furthest removed, the past two years for Nancy Ramos have not dulled the pain.

"It gets harder," she said. "You have that hope that it's all a nightmare. But he doesn't write me. There's no phone call from him."

But the fact that two years after his death his memory is still found inside his school, "it hurts, but it gives me comfort," she said.

"This helps my heart a lot to know that people still care and remember him. Nobody forgets."