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Army Staff Sgt. Darrell R. Griffin Jr., 36, Alhambra; killed in combat

Times Staff Writer

Army Staff Sgt. Darrell Griffin Jr.'s final e-mail to his wife, Diana, reflected all of his passions: his love for her, his quest for knowledge and his commitment to being a soldier.

Four days before he was killed by enemy small-arms fire March 21 during combat near Baghdad, he quoted from a Greek translation that he was reading:

“Spartan women of Greece used to tell their husbands, before they went into battle, to come back with their shields or laying on them, dying honorably in battle,” he wrote. “But if they did not return with their shield, this showed that they ran away from the battle.”

“Cowardice,” he told his wife of 12 years, “was not a Spartan virtue.” Diana, on the other hand, was his “Spartan woman of strength and virtue.”

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Griffin, a 36-year-old Alhambra resident, was on his second tour of combat duty in Iraq. He had returned with a hero’s accolades -- a Bronze Star with Valor awarded in 2005 for his role in saving the lives of three American soldiers and two Iraqi soldiers injured during battle in Tal Afar. He believed that American soldiers could make a difference for the Iraqi people.

“He was a really patriotic young man,” said his father, Darrell Griffin Sr. of Van Nuys. “He said that the people there really needed us and he felt it was the right place to be. He wished we didn’t have to have wars, but since that’s the way mankind is, he felt he was contributing an important part to his country.”

Darrell Ray Griffin Jr. was born March 13, 1971, and grew up in Turlock, Calif., near Modesto. The eldest son of six children, he was known as Skip to his family, which moved to the San Fernando Valley when he was in his late teens. He worked as an emergency medical technician in Los Angeles County before joining the California Army National Guard in 1999.

Two years later, he enlisted in the Army. In July 2001, he reported to Ft. Lewis, Wash., where he was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. He served in Iraq with that unit from October 2004 to September 2005.

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Nine months ago, he returned to combat on assignment with the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, also based at Ft. Lewis.

A week before Griffin was killed, his father spoke to him by telephone on his birthday. “He was concerned about our government pulling the carpet out from under our soldiers,” said his father, referring to debate in Washington about funding for the war effort.

“But he was upbeat. As a sergeant, he had some young men that reported to him and felt that his job was to protect them. He was a very strong person -- physically, mentally -- but also a very compassionate person, which I thought was a good combination for a soldier and a leader.”

A voracious reader of theology and philosophy, Griffin had been working on his own book out of a desire to reconcile what he had read with his actual experiences in battle, his father said.

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Griffin wrote about his combat experiences and view of the world on an Internet blog that he began after being redeployed to Iraq. “If I return home safely,” he said, “I will run for office in some capacity and will introduce a long forgotten type of leadership.”

In particular, he criticized what he called “political-speak” by national and local politicians.

“Skip used to say that our government officials would often talk of the ‘boots on the ground’ in Iraq, most often forgetting that those boots were filled with thinking, living flesh-and-blood Americans,” his father said.

“War is not just John Wayne giving an eloquent speech before he dies, but young men dying without a word and sent home with what is found of them.”

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Although Griffin did not attend college, his father said he was “smarter than most people who did.”

“When we’d get together, I always had to make sure I had read up on whomever Skip was learning about,” he said. “The latest was [German philosopher Friedrich] Nietzsche. My son was a devout Christian, but he always had an open mind and wanted to know what other people thought.”

The monthly care packages mailed to him in Iraq by his family were always full of reading material. The Weekly Standard, a conservative journal, was a regular item. His father said that Griffin was fair-minded and always tried to weigh the information he took in.

“He’d watch CNN and then Fox News and go down the middle somewhere so he could get a balanced view of the world,” his father said.

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“As brave as he was, he’d be scared before he had served in battles, but he felt that was part of the whole process. And he felt that if you weren’t afraid, then something was wrong.”

Griffin’s wife was the first to get word of his death, his father said.

“She’s really distraught,” he said. “It was a 12-year marriage that was a 12-year love affair. She’s devastated right now.”

The couple had no children.

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In addition to his wife and father, Griffin is survived by his stepmother, Kim Tomomatsu Griffin of Van Nuys; and siblings Alexis Griffin and Jordan Griffin, both of Van Nuys; Christian Griffin of Northern California; Rene Griffin Tomayo of Houston; and Sommer Stapp of Greenfield, Mo.

Services were Friday at Shepherd of the Hills Church in Porter Ranch, with burial at the Los Angeles National Cemetery in Westwood.

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megan.garvey@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

War casualties

Total U.S. deaths*:

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* In and around Iraq**: 3,260

* In and around Afghanistan***: 312

* Other locations***: 61

Source: Department of Defense* Includes military and Department of Defense-

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employed civilian personnel killed in action and in nonhostile circumstances

**As of Friday

***As of March 31


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