Torrance family still mourns son who died in Iraq

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Patricia Nazario/KPCC

The City of Torrance is dedicating Seaside Heroes Park to three fallen heroes from the South Bay High School: Corporal Joseph Anzack Jr., Corporal Micah Gifford and Captain Matthew Ferrara.

The U.S. government has recorded more than 3,500 American deaths in the line of duty since the war in Iraq began seven years ago. That figure includes Torrance native Joseph Anzack Jr. KPCC’s Patricia Nazario recently visited again with his father, whom she’d interviewed shortly after the young soldier died in 2007.

"We sung this [Clint Black's "Killin' Time"] at his going away party. Me and Joseph did a duo," said Joseph Anzack Sr., as his other half, Dee Dee Madrid, interjected "karaoke" at the same time. The older Anzack and Madrid were watching a video of his son's going away party when I first met them three years ago.

They had – and still have – a habit of finishing each other's sentences. As this Veterans Day approached, they talked about going to the Veterans Memorial Wall near Torrance City Hall.

“It’s like in the middle of a busy intersection. There’s no place to park. It’s not... not a place to really reflect," and sit down, says Joseph Anzack Sr., and spend time thinking about his son.

U.S. Army Corporal Joseph Anzack Jr. is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He was killed in Iraq in May 2007.

Army officials say insurgents attacked and overran a checkpoint on an isolated highway just south of Baghdad and took down Anzack’s platoon. He was 20 years old and single.

“Joe was the only son of an only son of an only son." Joe Senior says sometimes he imagines what it would have been like to have another son, especially around this time of year. Joseph Junior last visited home on his mid-tour leave three Thanksgivings ago.

Joe Senior says on the day of the return flight, his son asked him – and no one else – to ride along to the airport. “You could see the grave concern in his eyes when he walked toward the airplanes. It was really a tough thing for a father to watch when you know your son has grave concern about where he’s going.”

About six months later, some Iraqis found Anzack’s body floating in the Euphrates River outside Baghdad. Iraqi officials said Anzack had apparently been dead for days.

Joe Senior’s wife Dee Dee Madrid says they’d never been church-going people, but when they got those and other details she called a friend who’s also a pastor, "and we went to his house and we said, ‘You now this is what happened and we’re wondering if you’d be willing to come to the house and pray with us.' He did and that set the tone for us.”

A tone of respect and patience, Madrid says, that still helps her understand her husband when he’s grieving. The couple also takes care of Joe Junior’s younger sister, Casey, who’s studying at El Camino College to become a pharmacist.

The City of Torrance is honoring Joseph Anzack Jr. and two other South Bay soldiers killed in Iraq by naming a park in their honor. Anzack Senior says Seaside Heroes Park is scheduled to open by the end of the year. “Now I have a place where I can bring my family and we can spend some time and reflect.”

Joseph says that’s how Joe Junior would want it. “He wouldn’t want me to throw in the towel. He would want me to continue and to ... not just be of service to others and do the right thing," but to live life to the fullest. That’s what Joseph Anzack Sr. says he and his family try to do every day.

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