Delfin Santos Jr. was in Army basic training when his father died.
His father was himself an Army veteran, a prisoner of war during World War II who died in his 90s. Santos listened — really listened — to his father's stories as a child and promised he'd join the military someday.
So it was fitting, his sister said, that the younger Santos was buried recently next to his father — for whom he was named — in the Philippines.
On April 6, the 24-year-old cavalry scout's unit came under attack in Afghanistan's Zabul province, according to the Department of Defense. Santos died in Kandahar of his wounds from a car bomb blast.
Four other Americans were killed: two other soldiers, a civilian and Anne Smedinghoff, 25, a Foreign Service diplomat. The group was traveling to deliver books to Afghan children, Santos' family said.
Santos was assigned to the 5th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Ft. Stewart, Ga.
Santos — known to his family as D.J. for Delfin Jr. — was born in the Pampanga province of the Philippines. He was a toddler when his family moved to the Bay Area in the early 1990s, and he attended schools in Santa Clara and San Jose.
He moved back to the Philippines to finish high school and later returned to the U.S. He is survived by two sisters and 13 half siblings.
Santos' father doted on him, recalled his sister, Darlene Santos. His father was in his 70s when Santos was born. He would stand in family's yard in the Philippines, Darlene said, beaming as Santos rode a bicycle and exclaiming, "I can't believe I had a boy again!"
As a young man, Santos preferred spending time with his family to going out with friends. His two sisters would tease him, telling him they would find girls for him to date to get him to be more social. But he was "very picky, old-fashioned," Darlene said, laughing.
"He just always wants to spend more time with us," she said. "He's funny. He's sweet."
Santos joined the Army in December 2006, and his sister, Sgt. Madeleine Santos, enlisted shortly afterward. They both deployed to Iraq, and Madeleine was able to visit his base.
Santos reenlisted in 2011, Darlene said.
It was always Darlene who took Santos to and from the airport. After a stint at Ft. Sill, Okla., Santos got off the plane wearing a cowboy hat and boots and a smile at his sister's shocked expression.
Darlene dropped him off at the airport in October as he left for his deployment to Afghanistan.
Santos called home often. He would check on his mother, asking her if she took her medication. He would joke with his sisters. And he would talk to Darlene's and Madeleine's young daughters.
"Before my uncle passed away, he told me to take care of my grandma and my mom and always be good and remember to eat vegetables," said Darlene's 10-year-old daughter, Camille. "He always makes me eat my vegetables. He made me not afraid of them anymore."
Santos' family is keeping his most treasured possession: a silver Toyota Tacoma. His Beats by Dr. Dre headphones are still inside. A fellow soldier in Afghanistan would tease him, saying he was going to buy the truck from Santos when they got back to California. Santos said he'd never allow it.
He kept the truck spotless. He kept everything spotless, really. After going through his possessions after his death, a casualty assistance officer told his family she had never seen a young man so organized, Darlene said.
Days before his death, Santos' family sent him a care package with a few of his requests: laundry detergent, some chips.
Santos' sisters talked to him on Skype just before he died. They were joking, but he turned serious. If something happened to him, he said, he wanted to be buried next to his father.
After his father's death, Santos wrote a letter to him from basic training, and it was placed in the grave. No one knows what it says.
Santos never saw his father's grave. He and his sisters had been planning a trip to the Philippines to see it as soon as he returned from Afghanistan.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times