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Army National Guard Spc. Eric U. Ramirez, 31; Killed by Gunfire, Bomb

Times Staff Writer

Spc. Eric U. Ramirez’s last letter from Iraq arrived in Florida two weeks later, as his wife and parents were making plans for his funeral.

“That letter said to please pray for his wife, Tracey,” said his father, Feliciano Ramirez, who lives in Mascotte, Fla. “He was always thinking of his family and other people.”

Ramirez, who was assigned to the 670th Military Police Company, Army National Guard, in National City, Calif., was killed Feb. 12 in Abu Gireb, according to military officials. The 31-year-old soldier was attacked with small-arms fire, a rocket-propelled grenade and an improvised explosive device.

His funeral was held Feb. 21 at the Spanish-language Baptist church in Mascotte, where his father is the pastor. He was buried at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

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As of Friday, 545 American servicemen and women had been killed in Iraq, 407 since major fighting ended in May. Ramirez is one of 63 soldiers with ties to California who have died.

Eric Ramirez was born into a family of farmworkers. His father, Feliciano, moved with his parents from Mexico to Texas as a young child. As a teenager, Feliciano toiled with his parents in the fields of Texas, Florida, North Carolina and Michigan.

As young adults, Feliciano and his wife, Maria -- now 54 and 53, respectively -- became recruiters for a nonprofit group that took farmworkers from various states into a residential program in North Carolina to finish their high school education.

Ramirez, their oldest son, was born in Greensboro, N.C., but the family moved soon after to Florida, where his father became an English teacher and the pastor of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Mascotte.

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During summers, Ramirez’s parents took him and his two younger siblings -- Adel and Xochil Elmore, now 29 and 25, respectively -- to visit their grandparents, who were still farmworkers in Michigan.

Ramirez attended Mount Dora High School in Florida, where he played soccer, baseball and football. After graduating in 1991, he joined the Navy and was stationed in Corpus Christi, Texas; Europe; and San Diego.

After leaving the Navy in 2000, he enlisted in the California National Guard, and went to work for the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, serving warrants.

In San Diego, he also met his future wife, Tracey Benson. The couple traveled to Florida in August 2001 to be married in his father’s church.

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“That was the last time I saw him,” his father said. “He had been so busy fulfilling his military obligations.”

Ramirez was deployed to Iraq in January 2003. He returned briefly in December for the birth of his second child, Chase Eric Charles. The couple’s daughter, Isis, is 2.

Ramirez was due to return home in 42 days, when he would have been discharged from the National Guard, his family said.

He also is survived by his maternal grandparents, Juan and Juana Gutierrez of Naranja, Fla.

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