Army Spc. Manuel J. Holguin Jr., 21, Woodlake; Killed in Explosion of Makeshift Bomb in Iraq

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Times Staff Writer

When he entered boot camp in 2002, Manuel Joaquin Holguin Jr. was following a proud family tradition of serving in the Army.

His grandfather was a World War II veteran, and his two uncles fought in Vietnam. Holguin would hear about their exploits while growing up in the small Central Valley town of Woodlake, Calif. He was determined to follow in their footsteps, his family said.

“He set a challenge for himself,” his father, Manuel, said in a telephone interview. “And if it happened to be that he would go to war, then he would conduct himself honorably and serve proudly.”


His son did go to war, and was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when his Humvee convoy was patrolling a neighborhood in southern Baghdad on July 15.

The soldiers left their vehicles and were attacked with small-arms fire, according to the Department of Defense. Holguin was killed when a makeshift bomb exploded. He was 21.

In addition to his father, Holguin is survived by his mother, Lydia; and a younger brother, Javier.

Word of Holguin’s death spread quickly through his tight-knit hometown of about 7,000 residents, where the family is well-known. His mother is vice principal of Woodlake Valley Middle School, and his father is an assistant principal at Mt. Whitney High School in nearby Visalia.

“They are just a wonderful, wonderful family,” said Joycelynn Wilcoxson, a Woodlake Valley teacher who taught Manuel Holguin Jr. in the eighth grade.

She said he was a smart, happy student. “When he broke out into that wonderful grin,” Wilcoxson recalled, “he would lift your heart.”


Always athletic, Holguin enjoyed playing soccer and baseball in high school, his father said.

He enlisted shortly after graduating. He finished boot camp in March 2003, days before U.S. ground forces stormed across the desert into Iraq.

Holguin was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 1st Armored Division in Baumholder, Germany. The specialist was trained to operate a mortar but also drove a Humvee and served as the vehicle’s gunner, his father said.

In May 2003, his unit arrived in Iraq and spent the first 12 months in the Baghdad area before heading to the southern part of the country to help quell militia uprisings. Throughout, his father said, he managed to keep up his spirits.

“He was always one that was very positive,” Manuel Holguin said.

His son was supposed to leave the Army in November, but his duty was extended and he was ordered back to Iraq. His family last saw him in March, when he came home on leave.

He was looking forward to getting out of the service and becoming a police officer, his father said: “It was his nature to do things with a lot of action.”


He said the family supports Holguin’s decision to join the Army.

“It breaks our hearts, but we understand,” his father said. “He had to do what was right.”