GUY RAZ, host:
Forty-five American troops have died in Afghanistan so far in August, the highest monthly death toll since the war began. Marine Lance Corporal Javier Olvera was one of three Marines killed during combat operations in Helmond Province. Gloria Hillard watched as the Marine's body came home to Palmdale, California.
GLORIA HILLARD: There was only one flight scheduled into the small Palmdale Airport this day. It was the chartered jet carrying the body of 20-year-old Marine Lance Corporal Javier Olvera.
Unidentified Man: (Unintelligible).
HILLARD: Men and women from different patriotic organizations took their positions on the tarmac to honor the fallen serviceman. In their hands were American flags of all sizes. Next to them, friends and family of the young Marine could only hold each other.
It takes about 15 minutes for the flag-draped coffin to be unloaded. It's a somber observance. The only sounds are flags whipping in the wind and the muffled cries of a mother.
Martha Olvera says she was praying to God to take care of her child.
Ms. MARTHA OLVERA: You know, I really feel like it's not possible. It is certainly - it's kind of it's not true, but I know it's true. And I was thinking about the same moment my son gave his life for this country.
HILLARD: Javier joined the Marines at the age of 17. He told his mother he wanted to make her proud. He also wanted to give back to his parents' adopted country. Both his mother and father were born in Mexico. His last phone call home was two days before he died.
Ms. OLVERA: He said, Mom, I love you. I love you. I've got to go. I need to do another phone call. You know, don't worry. I'm going to be okay. I love you, Mom. I love you, Mom.
HILLARD: That other phone call was to his best friend, 20-year-old Elizabeth Parazquilla(ph).
Ms. ELIZABETH PARAZQUILLA: His voice, it was just so different this time. Like, it was never goodbye between us, never. And he called to say goodbye this time. His last words were just, Elizabeth, take care. Take care. You know I love you.
HILLARD: She said she wrote him every day during his first deployment to Iraq and then when he left for Afghanistan. She's clutching a copy of the last letter she'd written him.
Ms. PARAZQUILLA: I don't know if he was handed his last letter, but I kept a copy. I saved it. And I hope he got it.
HILLARD: Javier, the middle son of three boys, had planned to go the police academy when his tour was up in December. The last time he spoke to his younger brother, he encouraged him to get good grades so he could attend college. Fourteen-year-old Daniel says he's keeping that promise. But today, the boy with the soft, dark eyes and short, cropped hair is only focused on one thing.
Mr. DANIEL OLVERA: He would have wanted me to be strong, you know? So you know, I guess that's what I'm doing for him.
HILLARD: It's a solemn ritual when a fallen serviceman or woman is delivered home. Martha Olvera says she knows so many other mothers have experienced this day. She's worried about her English, how she can express what she's feeling.
Ms. OLVERA: I know other mothers, we are suffering. I'm really praying for peace.
HILLARD: For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard.
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