Army Sgt. Angel de Jesus Lucio Ramirez knew how much his mother worried about him during his first combat tour in Iraq. So during his second tour he would call home two or more times a week to reassure her that all was well.
On Nov. 9, Marina Lucio answered the phone in her Bakersfield home to hear her son offer a quick hello. The 22-year-old soldier said he was going on a two-day mission and would call again when he returned.
Three days later, two soldiers in crisp Army greens knocked on her door with the news that Lucio had been killed by a roadside bomb on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
"At least I got to talk to him one last time," she said. "He said he loved us and his brothers and sisters very much. That was the last thing he told me."
Lucio was among three soldiers killed in the explosion while on a security escort mission in Ramadi, west of Baghdad. They were all assigned to the 16th Engineer Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Giessen, Germany.
A graduate of San Fernando High School in Pacoima, Lucio moved with his family from Saltillo, Mexico, when he was 11. He adapted quickly to his new homeland and took an interest in the U.S. military.
His favorite pastimes as a child were playing soccer and army, said his father, Ignacio Lucio. He said his son's interest in the military grew with age. As a teenager, he spent his spare time playing video games with a military theme and watching war movies.
So his family was not surprised when Lucio announced that he was enlisting in the Army after graduating from high school in 2002. A short time later, his family moved to Bakersfield.
"He was motivated to enlist by the events of 9/11," said his father, who sent for his family after becoming a U.S. citizen. "We were concerned because the country was at war. But we supported his decision and are very proud that he served the nation."
Lucio's initial three-year enlistment ended last year, and he reenlisted knowing that he probably would end up again in Iraq. He chose to become a professional solider and liked everything about the Army -- its culture, traditions and discipline, his family said.
Ignacio Lucio said his son thrived in the Army, where every soldier starts off on a level playing field. "My son loved the Army. We didn't fully understand why, but we supported him," he said. "Even when he came home, he didn't leave the Army behind. He'd get up early in the morning to go running. He said he had to be ready to fight."
In an article in the Stars and Stripes newspaper about the deaths of Lucio and the other two soldiers, a captain said Lucio "was a leader of soldiers," for which "there is no greater honor."
A buddy wrote on an Internet blog for the Iraqi war dead that "as a gunner [Lucio] was the highest caliber of soldier." Another noted how quickly he was promoted to sergeant, adding, "It just goes to show how great a soldier he was."
Except for basic and advanced individual training, Lucio spent most of his enlistment with the 16th Engineer Battalion, a unit with a proud lineage and combat history that dates to World War II. Lucio and the other two soldiers who died with him were the first combat deaths the battalion has suffered in Iraq, according to the Stars and Stripes. He was buried at the Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood in a ceremony attended by fellow soldiers.
"They said a lot of things that made us very proud of Angel," his father said. "They said he was a good leader and took good care of the soldiers he led.
"I never thought he would be killed. I've got to accept the fact that he was. But my heart still cries for him, especially when I'm alone. If it wasn't for volunteers like him, other young men would have to be drafted to fight in this war."
Lucio was a legal permanent resident when he died. His father said he hopes the government will grant his son citizenship posthumously.
In addition to his parents, Lucio is survived by his wife, Daniela, a German national whom he married in April; an older brother, Ignacio Jr., 23; and younger siblings, Fatima, 16, Luis, 12, and Maria, 8.
"My brother is our hero," Fatima Lucio said. "It's hard to believe that he's not here anymore."