Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

A Marine of extraordinary tenacity

In a post earlier today about the record number of military naturalizations this past year, I briefly mentioned the story of the late Marine Lance Corporal José Gutierrez of Lomita, one of the first members of the U.S. military to die in the Iraq war on March 21, 2003.

It's been a few years since the release of this documentary about his life and death, The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez. But it's worth revisiting not only because it gets into the citizenship incentive for so-called "green card soldiers" to enlist, but because it recounts the life of an extraordinarily tenacious young man.

Orphaned in his native Guatemala by the age of nine, Gutierrez struggled to survive and eventually made his way north, with big dreams of becoming an architect. From a May 2003 story in the Los Angeles Times:

Jose eventually made the 2,000-mile trek from Guatemala to Los Angeles, promising the sister he left behind that he would become an architect and design great buildings.

So, on a spring morning six years ago, the baby-faced kid with big ears sat at a shelter for the homeless in Hollywood and, through his rotten teeth, told a daring lie.

Social worker Rafael Angulo asked Jose how old he was. Jose said 16.

He had plenty of reason to hide the truth. Adults who cross the border illegally are subject to deportation. A juvenile with no family could probably stay.

The social worker studied the smooth young face and wanted to believe the boy. Two weeks later, Jose was placed in his first foster home.

The boy, it turned out, was 22.

The lie changed everything. It got him a green card, and the green card got him into the Marines, and the Marines took him to the Iraqi port of Umm al Qasr, where he was killed the afternoon of March 21, one of the first U.S. servicemen to die in the war.

The toughness and tenacity that Gutierrez developed in his early years made him, in the end, an ideal Marine. He died by "friendly fire," one of the first two casualties of the war.

To all those who have served and sacrificed in pursuit of a dream or an ideal, respect.