Torrance Honors Fallen Soldier

As part of KPCC's coverage of the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war, KPCC's Patricia Nazario recalls the story of one local soldier. The death of Army Pfc. Joseph Anzack, Jr. in Iraq last May made national headlines. He was the same soldier who'd called his family at its South Bay home a month earlier to dispel a MySpace rumor that he'd been killed. Joseph Anzack Junior's Flag Box. Stored inside are his Purple Heart, Bronze Star and the shells from his 21-gun salute at Arlington National Cemetery.

[Clint Black song "Killin' Time"]

Joseph Anzack Sr. We sung this on his going away party. Me and Joseph did a duo...
Anzack and Dee Dee Madrid: Karaoke.

Patricia Nazario: That's Joseph Anzack Sr. and his other half, Dee Dee Madrid.

Anzack: That's my son. That's Joseph right there.
Madrid: Giving him a kiss, and that's Casey, his younger sister.
Anzack: That's my daughter.

Nazario: The urge to do it comes and goes. But Anzack says every now and then he'll pull out this box of pictures and DVD's to remember his only son.

Anzack: This is from South High... oh, wait a minute. This one...
Madrid: I'll get it after...

[Bagpipe music plays]

Nazario: About 10 months ago, Army officials say, insurgents attacked and overran a checkpoint on an isolated highway south of Baghdad. They took down a platoon that included Private First Class Joseph Anzack Junior.

Anzack: Just out of bootcamp...

Nazario: In the photograph on the big screen TV, Anzack Sr. is adjusting an Infantry Cord on the dress green uniform of his son. The 20-year-old was among the seven American soldiers and their Iraqi translator killed in the ambush.

Anzack: May 12th. It was a somber day. I don't really know how I really felt about that. He was missing for the first 11 days. And then he was recovered May 23rd.

Nazario: He's gone, but in Torrance, he's not forgotten. A lot of people knew Joe Anzack from the football Spartans of South High School. Officials there held a ceremony for him on the football field a few days after his body arrived in Los Angeles. It was a typical windy South Bay afternoon, and a faculty member recorded it. His math teacher, Kenny Hickman, remembered Anzack as an average student:

Kenny Hickman: Joe struggled to read.

Nazario: On the field, players from other teams struggled to get past the six-foot, 200 pound lineman. And off the field:

Stephanie Arauco: A lot of the ladies, must I say, Joe loved the ladies.

Nazario: Seventeen-year-old Stephanie Arauco had a crush on the guy her big brother Anthony played ball and graduated with. On the Anzacks' front lawn, the Araucos laughed about old times.

Anthony Arauco: You know, you could be feeling bad one second, and Joe would say something corny, or funny.

Stephanie Arauco: ... when he actually tried to shave his football number on his chest. And he did it in the mirror, so he did his number backwards. And it was funny because he's walking through school with the wrong number on. And he's like, yeah, well you look in the mirror, it's the right number for me, so, or whatever. (laughs)

Anzack: Yes, here we go... [camera shutter]

Nazario: Inside the dining room, a family friend takes pictures of Joe Anzack Sr. holding a new American flag. He's adding it to his son's wooden display case. Military officials flew it in Iraq last month on what would have been young Joe's 21st birthday.

Anzack: The Purple Heart. I got the Purple Heart medal and the Bronze Star behind the hat. Them are his work gloves from Iraq. Right here is his uniform.

Nazario: Anzack last saw his son alive the Thanksgiving before last, during a short leave from Iraq. There wasn't time for the camping or road trips the father and son had always enjoyed.

Anzack: He didn't want anybody else to go. His mom's kind of a crier, and all that stuff. He just wanted me to take him to LAX to return. He showed real grave concern. The look in his eyes. He was my son.

Nazario: And it's that lingering memory that has pushed Anzack to learn as much as he can about the way his son died.

Anzack: ... and when they told me the story about six enemy combatants having to detain him, I believe it totally, with all my heart. And I believe that's when he died.

Nazario: One guy who could confirm details for the father was the soldier who trained young Joe Anzack for combat in Iraq.

Army Sergeant Paul Burk: He was my gunner. On my truck, so he was always scanning for me.

Nazario: Sergeant Paul Burk, who lives near Fort Drum in New York State, says Anzack cared equally about his fellow soldiers and the local villagers.

Burk: By his interactions, they got to feel more comfortable with us, and were more willing to approach us and give tips. Point out people that the locals thought were insurgents.

Nazario: Burk says that since the ambush that wiped out Anzack and his fellow soldiers last May, American troops have gained important ground south of Baghdad. Joseph Anzack Sr. considers his son a hero.

Anzack: ... which earned him a spot in Arlington. Even though it's not convenient for the family to go see him. He earned that.

Nazario: A place in the military cemetery just outside the nation's capital, where this father laid his son to rest nine months ago.

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