Killed in Iraq, March 21, 2003
On March 21, 2003, Lance Corporal Gutierrez of Lomita, California, is believed to have been the first U.S. combat death in Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was the first of six U.S. Marines to lose their lives that day. Gutierrez was a 22-year-old rifleman with 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, from Camp Pendleton, California. He was killed in a firefight on March 21, 2003, near the port city of Umm Qasr in Iraq. Sadly, it was determined that he had been killed by friendly fire.
Gutierrez was not an American citizen at the time of his death. An orphan from Guatemala, he left there at age 17 with another boy to make the dangerous 2,000-mile journey to the U.S. by train, foot and bus. After crossing into the U.S., he was detained by U.S. Immigration authorities, but, because he was an orphan and had convinced them that he was age 16, he was not returned to Guatemala. Instead, Gutierrez became a ward of Los Angeles County. He ended up settling with a family in Lomita. There he learned English and completed high school. After reaching his 18th birthday, Gutierrez was granted legal residency in the U.S. Although his plans were to become an architect, Gutierrez put those plans on hold to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps on March 25, 2002. According to his adoptive family, he felt that he came from nothing, so he wanted to give back to the country that gave him everything.
After Gutierrez’s death, the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala located his only surviving blood relative, an older sister, who asked that he be buried in Guatemala. He is buried at Los Cipreses Cemetery in Guatemala City, but has a cenotaph at Los Angeles National Cemetery. Gutierrez’s sister was offered U.S. residency for her brother’s sacrifice.
Gutierrez was granted U.S. citizenship posthumously.
Killed in Iraq, March 27, 2003
Lance Corporal Flores died on March 27, 2003, only a week after ground combat operations commenced in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He is listed as the 49th U.S. combat death in that war. He died alongside two fellow marines when, during convoy operations in a sandstorm near An Nasiriyah, the tank in which they were crewmembers plunged into the Euphrates River from a collapsed bridge and overturned in the water. The 21-year-old Flores was assigned to 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Marine Corps Air-Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, California.
Flores was not an American citizen at the time of his death. He arrived in California from Guadalajara, Mexico, with his family when only three-years-old. Shortly after graduating from Duarte High School, he enlisted in the Marine Corps, looking forward to receiving college education benefits. Among his aspirations, according to his mother, was to become a detective or a stockbroker. At the time of his death, he was only two weeks away from taking the oath to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. He left behind a fiancé who he intended to marry upon his return. He is buried at Live Oak Memorial Park in Monrovia. The U.S. Post Office in Duarte on Highland Avenue is named in his honor.
Flores was granted U.S. citizenship posthumously.
L.A. VIDEO: The Short Life of José Antonio Gutierrez