A U.S. Medic Who Won't Make It Home

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Hospitalman Geovani Padillaaleman, 20, of South Gate, Calif., died April 2 as a result of enemy action in Al Anbar Province, Iraq. He was permanently assigned to Bethesda Naval Hospital, USNS Comfort Detachment and operationally assigned to Third Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, 2/28 Brigade Combat Team. Reporter Jordan Davis has a remembrance.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Geovani Padillaaleman was a Navy hospital man serving with the Marines in Iraq's Al Anbar Province. His job was to save lives. Earlier this month, he lost his. The 20-year-old medic was one of four servicemen who died when their truck was blown apart by a roadside bomb on April 2nd.

From member station, KPCC, Jordan Davis reports.

JORDAN DAVIS reporting:

Raphael Padilla and his wife were among the millions of Mexicans who came to the U.S. illegally. They arrived in the mid-80s with their infant son, Geovani.

Mr. RAPHAEL PADILLA (Father of Geovani Padillaaleman): (Speaks Foreign Language)

DAVIS: Raphael Padilla says like any other immigrant, he wanted his son to have a better life. When his family got legal residency, he though Geovani had a bright future in the U.S. He didn't imagine that future would end in a roadside bomb attack in Iraq.

Now one of Padilla's most cherished mementos is a voicemail message he's saved since September.

(Soundbite of voicemail message in foreign language)

DAVIS: Geovani tells his father he's just arrived in Iraq and he sends his love to his family.

(Soundbite of voicemail message in foreign language)

DAVIS: Geovani Padilla leaves behind a sister, mother, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins. At the family's main gathering place in East Lost Angeles, a memorial altar still burns brightly in the linoleum-floored living room.

Mr. SALVADOR PADILLA (Cousin of Geovani Padillaaleman): Right here you see all these flowers and candles, crosses, and a rosary.

DAVIS: Cousin Salvador Padilla says two weeks after Geovani's funeral, they are trying to pick up where their lives left off. Salvador says his cousin enlisted in the Navy to help pay for college. Geovani was a fan of existentialist author Albert Camus. He wrote two books of his own and gave computer-printed copies to his family.

After Geovani's death, Salvador copied a passage to carry with him.

Mr. S. PADILLA: It says, "when someone dies, you shouldn't feel sorry for them. Why are you going to feel sorry for them? If they were old, then their time was up. If it was a young life, on the other hand, that person was at the wrong place at the wrong time."

DAVIS: Padilla dreamed of becoming a surgeon. When he finished basic Navy training, he spent a year and a half learning to work as a hospital man. Raphael Padilla says his son was always a high achiever. When Geovani was in high school, the principal wanted to honor his academic achievement by displaying his photo in school hallways. Then, his father Raphael says, he refused to have the photo posted, fearing gang members would harass his son.

Today, an oversized memorial photo of Geovani in his white sailor's hat hangs proudly outside the family home. Geovani Padilla was posthumously granted U.S. citizenship. His hometown of Southgate, California honored him for his heroism.

Mr. R. PADILLA: (Speaks Foreign Language)

DAVIS: But Raphael Padilla says, instead of a hero, he would rather have his son back alive.

For NPR News, I'm Jordan Davis.

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