MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Iraq's Al Anbar Province claimed the life of a young soldier from Maine on March 13th. Twenty-one-year-old Angel Rosa joined the Marines just last year. His death during combat operations came barely two months into his first tour in Iraq. From member station MPBN, Jeanne Baron reports from Portland, Maine.
JEANNE BARON: Friends and family describe Rosa as a proud, Puerto-Rican-born man, an accomplished athlete, gregarious, a natural leader. Angel and his wife, 21-year-old Elise Rosa, were married less than a year ago. On this day, she's clutching his red-and-white soccer jacket, and she says she always wears copies of his dog tags.
ELISE ROSA: Because they're a part of him. You know, he always had to have them on. You know the Marines. They get in trouble if they don't, so...
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
BARON: In photos, Angel Rosa is a broad-faced, big-smiling, athletic man. He and Elise met working at the same restaurant, and last year he proposed while at boot camp. Elise says she kept the proposal letter in a scrap book with other tokens of their short marriage.
ROSA: ...and things like that. I saved plane ticket stubs and...
BARON: Memories of happy times.
ROSA: Absolutely. They were nothing but happy times.
BARON: Elise said she supported Rosa when he began to talk of joining the Marines. He'd overcome a lot, she says, learning English once he moved permanently to Maine from Puerto Rico with his mother. Elise says Rosa saw the Marines as a way to challenge himself.
Talking outside Rosa's family home on the day Rosa's death was made public, his step-father, Robert Bradbury, a large, white-haired man, reads from an essay Rosa wrote when he finished boot camp.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRAFFIC SOUNDS)
ROBERT BRADBURY: (Reading) "I knew that I was definitely crazy enough to go and try and be a Marine. I figured I had a few doubts, but as I began completing goals and being more confident, then I knew mentally I could do anything."
ADAM PERRIN: Angel is and was one of the most intense competitors that I've seen in the years that I've coached.
BARON: Adam Perrin was Rosa's varsity soccer coach at South Portland High, where he graduated in 2004. And in the halls of that school, principal Jeanne Crocker says Angel Rosa is remembered as a beloved student.
JEANNE CROCKER: He was very friendly, very outgoing, was one of those student whose friendships crossed all of the normal boundaries.
BARON: But by the time Rosa joined the Marines, his step-father, Robert Bradbury, says he was a man making a man's choices.
BRADBURY: The outcome is not exactly what any of us wanted for sure, but I mean, that's one thing people don't realize, is when one person gets lost like my son, that you lose entire generations. You know, there's not going to be any grandkids, there's not going to be any more birthdays.
BARON: But his widow, Elise, says Rosa did what he had to do, and she's proud of him for it, and so she says she wouldn't have it any other way. For NPR News, I'm Jeanne Baron.