Marine Cpl. William I. Salazar, 26, Canoga Park; Killed in Bomb Blast

Times Staff Writer

William Isac Salazar rarely remembered birthdays, but this year he got it right.

The Marine corporal sent his father an e-mail from Iraq Oct. 14 to wish him well on his 56th, which was the next day. “I always forget your birthday so if I’m late or early, at least I tried to remember,” he wrote. “So Happy Birthday, Dad. Send pictures of family and friends when you can.”

Gus Salazar, who often checked the computer at his Canoga Park home for a message from his youngest son, promptly sent a reply that was never answered.

As Salazar, 26, was traveling Oct. 15 in a convoy in Karabilah in Al Anbar province near the Syrian border, a suicide car bomber drove into the formation of Humvees and trucks, killing him, two U.S. soldiers and a civilian Iraqi interpreter.


The Department of Defense identified the other American casualties as Army Sgt. Michael Glenn Owen, 31, of Phoenix, and Spc. Jonathan Jose Santos, 22, of Whatcom County, Wash.

When two Marines and a Navy chaplain showed up at the Salazar home that Saturday morning during breakfast, Gus Salazar thought they were collecting for charity.

His wife, Jennifer Nejman-Salazar, knew better.

“I’ve seen enough movies to know that scene. When I saw them, my heart just sunk, because I knew William had died. I screamed, ‘Oh, my God. No!’

“I see other casualties on TV and feel for those families, but you never know what it’s like until it happens to you. My life will never be the same again.”

Salazar was a video cameraman and photographer who documented daily war activities and created training videos. He is the only cameraman to die during Operation Iraqi Freedom so far, and is believed to be the first military combat photographer to die in action since the Vietnam War.

Carrying rifles along with their digital equipment, combat camera teams work in pairs and accompany at least two patrols a day. Salazar would usually try to go on three patrols, said Lance Cpl. Michael McMaugh, who worked with him for two months this summer before returning to Camp Pendleton in September.


“He always wanted to go out. If something big was happening he wanted to be there to catch the action,” McMaugh said. “He was always a hard worker, a take-charge kind of guy.”

Staff Sgt. Paul Anstine, who oversaw Salazar’s work in Iraq, said “Salazario,” as he called him, learned photography so well during four months of special training at Ft. Meade in Maryland that he was given additional instruction in video production.

“I’ll always remember he wanted to be better at what he did. He was always asking questions,” Anstine said. “He had a true desire for knowledge to be a better combat cameraman and better leader.... That’s what will always define him for me.”

Salazar grew up in Lynwood and graduated from South Gate High School in 1996. An artistic teenager, he played accordion and trombone, liked to sketch and create CD cover designs, and was a party DJ who favored hip hop and rap, said Nejman-Salazar, his stepmother.

He took computer graphic design classes at Santa Monica College. Salazar also attended East Los Angeles College, where he played trombone in the marching band and for two of the school’s jazz bands.

Band director Jesus Martinez said Salazar was serious about rehearsals and won awards for most spirited player and for most-improved Latin jazz musician.


A classmate, who is a professional guitarist, liked Salazar’s sound so much he invited him to join his off-campus ensemble.

“He played with heart. It wasn’t just about technique,” said Scott Rodarte, who played with Salazar for about a year. “That’s why instructors and everybody liked him. He really felt the music.”

Salazar, who even then wore a crew cut, wanted to join the military but was rejected twice because of his weight, said Nejman-Salazar.

About four years ago, he moved to Las Vegas and briefly lived with his uncle, Lou Salazar, who was a Marine during the Vietnam War.

After Sept. 11, Nejman-Salazar said, William got serious about getting in shape, dropped more than 50 pounds and began his service at Camp Pendleton on Dec. 10, 2001.

His first overseas assignment was to create military training videos in Okinawa, Japan, for a year. He earned the National Defense Service Medal and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon. Salazar was deployed to Iraq in May.


Salazar was laid to rest Saturday with full military honors at St. Hilary Catholic Church in Pico Rivera. Burial was at Resurrection Cemetery in Montebello.