Just after graduating from San Ramon Valley High School, Joshua D. Corral joined the Marine Corps, leaving behind his close-knit Bay Area hometown of Danville.
A little more than a year later, he was brought back home to a hero's welcome, with more than 3,000 of his neighbors somberly saluting as a motorcade bearing his casket proceeded down flag-draped streets.
His death Nov. 18 was announced at his old school's Friday night football game. In text messages, emails and hushed hallway conversations, word had already spread: The fun-loving student everyone knew as "Chachi" had been killed in combat in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, on the Pakistani border. He was 19.
Corral is said to be the first from his school to be killed in combat in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
"It really struck a chord," said Don Busboom, a San Ramon Valley social studies teacher and Corral family friend. "It spoke volumes on a lot of different levels."
One of four boys, Corral was well-known in Danville, east of San Francisco. His parents, Arnie and Denise Corral, also had graduated from San Ramon Valley High.
Corral was an athlete, playing baseball and soccer in youth leagues and freshman football in high school. He was a natural leader, Busboom said, and was at the heart of a group of about 10 graduates enlisting at roughly the same time.
"He wasn't a great student academically, but he was a great kid to have in class," said Busboom, a pastor as well as a teacher. "There was a joy he brought into the classroom. You knew you were brushing up against a kid who was alive."
The teenager joined the Marines "because he wanted to make a difference," Arnie Corral told mourners at his son's funeral.
In his last phone conversation with his parents, Corral sounded weary and asked them to pray for the men in his unit, his father said. Deeply religious, the young man wore tattoos of Jesus, the cross and the first verses of Psalm 18: "I will love thee, O Lord, my strength…"
A few days later, the young Marine machine-gunner was walking in front of his squad, sweeping an area for hidden bombs when one exploded, Busboom said. A Marine Corps spokesman said only that Corral died of wounds suffered in combat operations.
He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force in Twentynine Palms, northeast of Palm Springs.
Corral's death occurred two months after he arrived in Afghanistan.
He was buried Nov. 30 at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette, northwest of Danville. In addition to his parents, he is survived by three brothers, Zack, 22; Jordan, 16; and Christian, 10.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times