ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
Victor Ulloa started first grade in Texas this year without his dad. Twenty-three-year-old Marine Sergeant George Ulloa, Jr., died after his tank convoy was hit by a roadside bomb in Iraq. His wife, three young children, family and many friends remember George Ulloa as a boy who quickly became a man over the last few years.
From member station KUT in Austin, Ben Philpott has this remembrance.
BEN PHILPOTT: Before he was Sergeant Ulloa, he was Little Georgie. His sister, Usabia Martinez Ulloa, remembers him as a burst of energy, ready to play with whoever was around.
Ms. USABIA MARTINEZ ULLOA: He just was an entertainer, pretty much, with anything that he did, either go and play on the trampoline and jump with all the kids and ourselves or at times, even now that we were older, he'd still pick me up and put me over his shoulder like I was a little girl when, in fact, I'm older than him. So little things like that. He was very highly spirited in that aspect.
PHILPOTT: But the young entertainer also had a serious side. As he turned 16, Little Georgie began to focus on helping to support his family. Usabia says he wasn't interested in just picking up a paycheck, even when working at a local pizza place.
Ms. ULLOA: He was a manager at a very young age and he just wasn't happy with just sitting behind the counter and being, you know, just the kid behind the counter. He wanted to be manager. He wanted to have people under him and being able to show authority and, you know, to make a difference.
PHILPOTT: Ulloa's journey to manhood also concentrated on his physical attributes. At 16, he started training to be a professional boxer with Don Billingsley.
(Soundbite of punching bag being hit)
PHILPOTT: Known as Pops, he works one on one with boxers at a small gym in an industrial part of town. Pops says that what stands out in his mind is how Ulloa was actually willing to be trained.
Mr. DON BILLINGSLEY (Boxing Trainer, Texas): Oh man. Kids, teenagers nowadays, they come in. They want me to train them, but then they know everything already. You tell them something, they say I know, I know, I know, I know, and they don't know nothing. But George wasn't that kind of a person. He let me teach him.
PHILPOTT: The training never led to a prize fight, but it did help Ulloa physically prepare for a career in the Marines. His sister, Usabia, says joining the military was the final step in his quick journey from boy to man.
Ms. ULLOA: So I started seeing the demeanor in him change as, you know, as he stood differently, as he acted differently, as he disciplined his children, as he spoke, that he was no longer, you know, Georgie. Granted, I still wanted to call him that, but he was no longer Little Georgie. He was now a man.
PHILPOTT: Ulloa the man spent his time focused on his wife, three kids and life after the military. His sister says he was already filling out applications to start a career in law enforcement. Ulloa never questioned whether he would come home from Iraq. His death cut short a life that many, including his boxing trainer, Pops, felt was limitless.
Mr. BILLINGSLEY: He was a tough kid from birth. I guess biological toughness, would you say, and his bone structure - everything was big.
PHILPOTT: Ulloa's family agrees with Pops. He was always a giant to them.
For NPR News, I'm Ben Philpott in Austin.
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