George Jitendra Payton had turned a corner in his life before joining the Marines in 2002.
His mother, Chandra, was worried about the influence of gangs in their Culver City neighborhood, so she sent him to live with relatives and attend high school in her native Fiji. After a year, he came back to the U.S. as a positive, focused young man. “He was getting around to becoming the kind of man I wanted him to be,” said his mother, a literacy coach for the Los Angeles Unified School District. “He was my confidante, my support, my right hand.”
Five weeks shy of his 21st birthday, the lance corporal died Nov. 14 of combat wounds suffered in Iraq’s Al Anbar province.
He was born in Scranton, Pa., and spent much of his childhood at Ft. Ord, Calif., where his father, George William Payton, was in the Army. After his parents’ divorce, he lived with his mother in Culver City and attended schools there.
Payton, nearing the end of his second tour in Iraq, was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton. When he was stateside, his mother would pick him up at the base on Friday nights and drive him back on Sundays. “If I missed a weekend, I’d feel so guilty,” she said.
Marine officials told Chandra Payton that her son was mortally wounded as he led a patrol through the door of an apartment in a combat zone. As soon as he entered, he was shot and then hit with a grenade. One of his comrades caught a second grenade that was flung their way and lobbed it back, killing a number of insurgents. Eight hours later, Payton died at a military hospital.
At home, he helped his mother care for his three younger brothers: Geoffrey, 17; Albert, 8; and Anand, 6.
Payton e-mailed the family frequently and telephoned occasionally from Iraq. After his mother sent him a care package stuffed with cookies and suspense novels, he asked her not to send another. “He wrote that he had a strange feeling that something would happen to him, that he’d probably come home before December,” his mother said. “I thought maybe so, but I thought he’d come home alive.”
After a memorial service Wednesday at Holy Cross Mortuary in Culver City, Payton’s body was cremated. His ashes were spread at sea.