Students at Long Beach Poly High School have a new, permanent reminder of Memorial Day. It’s a concrete bench in front of the school’s library unveiled a few days ago in memory of an alumnus who died in Operation Enduring Freedom, the US-led war in Afghanistan.
10 years ago, Israel Garcia graduated from Poly High. His dream at the time, his widow Leslie Garcia said, was to join the US Army. He became a sergeant and died in 2008 in Afghanistan.
"There’s a battle called, the battle of Wanat. His company got ambushed, two weeks before coming home from that 15 month deployment. He lost his life that day along with eight other soldiers," she said.
Steven Kerns served with Garcia. They became close friends when they asked each other about their hometown and high school. Both graduated from Poly High, 3 years apart. Kerns called Garcia a true leader.
"It was so inspiring working with him because he was one of those people who’d be like, ‘It’s impossible, we’re going to do it, and we’re going to do it easily.’ And he was one of those people who could get you to forget that things were impossible," he said.
Kerns’ idea and legwork led to the memorial bench in front of Poly High’s library. The school and its soccer team meant a lot to Sgt. Garcia, his high school coach Cameron Beaulac said.
"As teachers and coaches, we’re not always sure how much affect we have on students. I feel very blessed that I was able to help make a happy, positive influence on his life while he was here," he said.
Many who attended the ceremony a few days ago say they’re experiencing Memorial Day in a deeper, more personal way than before. Garcia’s mother, Maricruz Garcia, talked about her pride in her son.
"I don’t have words to say thank you," she said.
Israel was two years old when she brought him to this country from Nayarit, Mexico. The memorial plaque lists his birth date, the date on which he died, and the medals he earned: a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart.