In an e-mail message from Iraq earlier this month, Army Spc. Rel Allen Ravago IV told his family in Glendale how proud he was of his new job as a driver for a high-ranking military official.
The following day, Ravago, 21, and Command Sgt. Maj. Jerry L. Wilson, 45, of Thompson, Ga., were fatally shot in Mosul "when hostile forces attacked the vehicle they were in on Nov. 23," military officials said.
Ravago, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division, based at Ft. Campbell, Ky., was one of eight California soldiers killed in Iraq during November.
Military officials have denied that the soldiers' bodies were mutilated by a mob after being pulled from their vehicle, as some witnesses reported.
As of Friday, 434 American servicemen and women had been killed during the war in Iraq, 296 of them since major fighting ended May 1.
As word spread through Glendale last Sunday that Ravago had been killed, dozens of relatives and friends rushed to the family home to comfort his parents, Rel Alwyn, 45, and Mary Ann Ravago, 47; and his sister Melanie Anne, 16.
"He was very family-oriented," his father said. "He cared for all the family. Not just us. Also his friends."
Ravago's grandfather, Rel Junsay Ravago, 74, immigrated from the Philippines to Glendale in 1970 to provide better opportunities for three children, including Ravago's father.
As a student at Hoover High School, Ravago was a skilled break-dancer and cymbalist in the school's drum corps. Most remember him, though, as the big brother who valued his close-knit circle of friends.
Hoover High English teacher Kathy Angers recalled a young man who set priorities in his life according to his favorite quote: "It is like a finger pointing away to the moon: Don't concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory."
To Ravago, the quote from "Striking Thoughts: Bruce Lee's Wisdom for Daily Living" meant that one should pursue the more important endeavors in life.
"Rel did not get caught up in petty detail," said Angers, whose son and daughter were his friends. "He saw the big picture. He knew what was important: family, friends and his country."
After graduating in 2000, Ravago joined the Army, which puzzled his family. Because he was a talented artist, his family thought he would enroll in art school. Before his deployment to Iraq in February, his family said, he told them that he was afraid.
But this summer he wrote and said, "I'm not scared anymore," said his aunt, Arlynn Solis, 44. "If you see the faces of the kids, it will warm your heart. Now I know I have to be here; otherwise, they won't have a future."
A week ago, Ravago's parents and some friends saw television and newspaper pictures of the mob attack on his vehicle, not knowing that one of the victims was the young man with a bright smile they knew.
Learning that one of those killed was his former student "was like a blow to the stomach," said Hoover High music teacher Craig Kupka, who had taught Ravago in the drum corps.
After receiving news of his death, the family placed an American flag outside their house, and recalled Ravago's simple explanation for joining the military.
"He wanted to serve his country," his father said.
In addition to his parents and sister, he is survived by his grandparents, Rel Junsay and Rebecca Ravago of Glendale, and Eleanor Florendo and Leopoldo Ongcapin of Marina del Rey; three aunts; two uncles; and eight cousins. Funeral arrangements have not been completed, the family said.