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California Marines Die in Fighting With Iraqi Insurgents

Times Staff Writer

“Whatever you start, you have to finish,” Marine Pfc. Eric A. Ayon told his 7-year-old son, Joshua.

Halfway through boot camp last year, Ayon, 26, broke an arm and was told that he probably would be let go because of the injury.

But Ayon wasn’t about to quit. He surprised his superiors, finishing his physical training and learning to assemble his rifle with one good arm.

And all the while, he never let on to his family in Arleta, Calif., that he was injured. They found out when they came to his boot camp graduation.

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On April 9, after just seven weeks in Iraq, Ayon was killed during a battle in Al Anbar province. In the last month, his Camp Pendleton regiment has suffered several casualties, many of whom, like Ayon, were from the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force.Ayon’s sister, Cynthia, 23, said it was her brother’s dream to be a Marine. As a child, he had an army of GI Joe figurines.

After graduating from Herbert Hoover High School in Glendale, Ayon married his high school sweetheart, Angie Vasquez. When their son was born, Ayon put his dream of joining the Marines on hold.

“He was determined to go to the Marines, but he waited until his son was old enough so he would remember his father in case something ever happened to him,” Cynthia Ayon said.

Meanwhile, Ayon discovered another passion -- mentoring wayward teenagers at Mid-Valley Community Day School in Van Nuys. Day after day, he would spend hours talking troubled teens out of gangs and into staying home at night.

To his two younger sisters, Ayon remained the quintessential big brother and role model. He worried endlessly about Jazmine, 16, who is still in high school, and was always available to help Cynthia with her 3-year-old daughter, Kimberly.

Outside the family’s Arleta home, Ayon had hung American and Marine Corps flags and asked his family to never take them down.

“My brother was proud of those flags and we should be too,” Cynthia Ayon said.

Ayon also is survived by his parents, Henry and Maria Ayon.

On Saturday, Ayon was buried at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park, Hollywood Hills, where more than 400 mourners gathered to pay their respects.

Among them was Ayon’s favorite musical artist, corrido singer Lupillo Rivera, who sang several of Ayon’s favorite ballads before removing his cowboy hat and tie and placing them atop Ayon’s casket.

“He was a fan of mine,” Rivera said afterward, “but what he didn’t know is I was a fan of his as well. He was one of the troops that helps us sleep comfortably at night when something has to be taken care of.”


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