MILITARY DEATHS

FamilyDeathArmed ForcesDefenseBars and ClubsDining and DrinkingArmed Conflicts

They were playing R&B and hip-hop at the Tejano club that night.

Army Spc. Mark Ryan Climaco Caguioa, 21, was passing the sweltering Texas night drinking with fellow soldiers -- a bunch of guys barely out of their teenage years, trying to meet girls.

Megan McCommas, 18, was sitting alone, in a sulk. She had quarreled with her high school girlfriends. She sat in a corner, hoping the girlfriends would call.

The young men at the next table wanted her attention.

They found a way to get it: One of Caguioa's friends tapped her on the shoulder, then looked away when McCommas turned, pretending nothing happened.

That smooth move started the conversation.

Caguioa watched as his friends bantered with the young woman. They said they couldn't believe McCommas was a local girl -- a shopkeeper's daughter from Florence. They thought everyone around Ft. Hood was military. They teased her about her country-western clothes. "You in the wrong club?" they asked.

But Caguioa was tongue-tied. His friends had to tell him: "Just talk to her!"

Finally, he did. That night, the last phase of Caguioa's young life began.

The earlier phases had included cars, video games, high school, restaurant work, a stint as a sushi chef, community college and finally, the Army, according to the his family's account recorded by the Lodi Funeral Home in Lodi, Calif.

Born to Filipino immigrants in Stockton, Caguioa attended Bear Creek High School, where he was told that he couldn't play football because he was too small.

No amount of lifting weights or supplementing his diet could make him gain, his family said. Even after he joined the Army two years ago, he was one of the smallest men in his unit, though he was passionate and sought assignments, his family said.

He had always been funny, well-liked. But that night in the Tejano club, Caguioa's life turned a little more serious. He started dating McCommas. They began to plan a grown-up life together.

He helped her stock shelves in her parents' pawnshop and opened up to her about his life. On leave home, he told his Stockton family that he'd met a girl who looked like Lindsay Lohan. Even so, he was still too embarrassed to kiss her in front of his friends.

Then, last fall, he was bound for Iraq.

All the men in his unit had the same worry: that their girlfriends would leave them while they were away. Caguioa wanted to propose but feared rejection.

He hedged.

He called McCommas on the phone and asked what she would say -- just supposing he were to ask her to marry him.

She answered quickly: "I'd say yes as long as you weren't asking over the phone!"

Although he never got the chance to ask in person, they did become engaged.

But the summer days of the Tejano club and the pawnshop ended at a hospital in Maryland.

Caguioa was in a Humvee in Baghdad on May 4 when a roadside bomb exploded. He lost both legs and was transferred stateside.

McCommas was on her senior trip to Six Flags at the time. She learned of his injury shortly after and asked her mother for permission to go see him. Her mother said she had to finish the school year first.

His condition worsened. Finally, the military flew her to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

There, Caguioa's young fiancee sat overnight in his room, wiping the sweat from his face and dabbing tears that overflowed over tubes that blocked his mouth.

"His eyes would water up, would look like he was crying," she said. "I had never seen him cry before."

The doctors came to tell the family that they would have to amputate one of his arms too. A clot had blocked the blood flow.

McCommas had tried hard not to cry, but with this news, she had to leave. She didn't want his mother and relatives to see.

"I went so far no one could find me," she said. "I walked outside and found a couple trees. I stood under the trees and watched cars go by. I brought a photo album, and I was looking at it, and crying."

The 21-year-old soldier died May 24. He had been awarded a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Combat Infantry Badge.

President Bush met his family in Bethesda, and Caguioa was granted a headstone in Arlington National Cemetery, though his remains lie at the Presidio in San Francisco National Cemetery, closer to his family.

He is survived by his mother, Maria "Lulay" Climaco; two younger brothers, Sean and Gary; a younger sister, Loren; and other family and friends, according to the funeral home.

Since Caguioa died, McCommas has gone back to Florence, back to stocking shelves at the pawnshop.

jill.leovy@latimes.com

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