The sister of one of the first U.S. servicemen killed in Iraq said Tuesday that her brother had called before going to the Middle East, saying he would visit her when he returned home.
Marine Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez, 22, who lived in Lomita, is believed to be the second U.S. serviceman to die in combat. Before shipping out, Gutierrez told his sister, Engracia Cirin, "Ask God to take care of me," the woman recalled.
Gutierrez was killed Friday when his battalion took heavy fire from Iraqi Republican Guard forces near the port city of Umm al Qasr, U.S. Central Command spokesman Stu Upton in Qatar said Tuesday.
Cirin was notified of her brother's death about 2:30 a.m. Saturday by U.S. Embassy officials. The 32-year-old woman said she plans to bring her brother's body home to Guatemala.
"This is his country," she said as she sat in her bedroom surrounded by photos and gifts that Gutierrez had sent from California. Spread on her bed were Guatemalan newspapers that carried the story of his death.
Like thousands of other Central American immigrants, Gutierrez made a perilous journey to the United States, hopping train cars along the way. He crossed the border in 1997 and was later granted legal resident status by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, said Fernando Castillo, the Guatemalan consul in Los Angeles.
Gutierrez attended North High School in Torrance and Harbor College before enlisting in the Marines last March. After signing up, he called his sister.
"He told me I should be proud because he was going to be a good soldier," she said. "I told him not to go, that it would be dangerous, that he had a sister who lived for him."
Times staff writer Robert J. Lopez in Los Angeles contributed to this report.