Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph C. Lopez, 26, killed by roadside bomb in Afghanistan
It took a while for Joseph C. Lopez to find his place in life. When he did, the young man everyone called Joey asked his older brother, Arthur Pratti, to go with him to the Marine Corps recruitment office.
An Air Force veteran, Pratti said Lopez, of the Antelope Valley community of Rosamond, was “trying to find his way.”
“It took him a while to find his niche in the world. Before he joined the Marines, he was doing a lot of little things,” said Pratti, 30. “I wouldn’t say he had a troubled past, but he never really found his niche till he became a Marine.”
Lopez enlisted in the Marines in March 2009. On Oct. 14, the 26-year-old lance corporal was killed by an improvised explosive device during combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
Family and friends recalled him as a young man with a soft spot for children. He helped his father, Arthur Pratti Sr., 48, coach youth basketball. “He was a kid at heart,” his brother said. “He spoiled his nieces like they were his kids.”
Lopez’s mother, Tracy, 47, met Arthur Pratti Sr. when Joseph was an infant. His aunt, Delfy Ramirez, 53, said he grew up as a Pratti, and in school he wrote his name that way.
“My father met his mother when he was 3 months old, so we’ve known him his whole life,” Arthur Jr. said. “We didn’t distinguish between him and our other brothers.”
His aunt, Olivia Lancaster, said Joseph visited his grandmother next door and watched Spanish-language soap operas with her “even though he didn’t understand them.”
“That was our Joey,” she said. “He was a gentle and very caring young man.”
Joshua Ostrowski, 29, said he became friends with Joseph not long after he moved next door in 1994.
They were soon inseparable. “When I would be down in life, Joey would find a way to make me laugh,” Ostrowski said. “He always did this little eyebrow shuffle thing and a big dorky smile with a funny voice that would make me start busting out laughing no matter what kind of a mood I was in.”
After he graduated from high school, Lopez worked at a series of odd jobs, sometimes with his dad. He also worked at a Costco. But as he approached his mid-20s, he was eager to do something different, his relatives said.
“He knew he had to get out and do something. It was like, ‘Make a choice now,’ ” his brother said.
Lopez decided he wanted to be a Marine.
“We went together to talk to the recruiters, and he decided on his own,” the younger Pratti said. “He wanted to be in the infantry. The thing about my brother, he just wasn’t a white-collar worker. He was more of a blue-collar type. He wanted to be on the ground.”
Lopez was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton.
Cpl. Sean Johnson, 23, of Arkansas was Lopez’s squad leader. He recalled him as a few years older and more mature than the typical young Marine. Lopez would spend time reading up on material related to his duties, Johnson said.
In Afghanistan Johnson made Lopez his saw gunner, which meant he operated an M249, a relatively high-maintenance machine gun. Once in the combat area, Johnson also frequently chose Lopez to be the “tail end Charlie guy,” watching to make sure enemies weren’t sneaking up. It was another high-responsibility position.
“Every time we got fired on, never once did he question doing anything or act scared or flinch,” Johnson said. “He always kept his head and moved calmly.”
The two men’s squad of about 25 was headed to help two others that were pinned down by insurgents. They were ambushed, and the Marines ran for cover. Johnson broke for the right and was shot; Lopez ran to the left and stepped on an explosive device. He died quickly, Johnson said.
“He was one of our brothers,” he said.
Not long before his death, Lopez had sent Arthur Pratti Sr. a text.
Ramirez, who is the senior Pratti’s sister, said the message began with an assurance. Lopez told the only man he had ever known as a father that he’d been reading the Bible every day.
“He said, ‘I know God, and if anything happens to me, I want you to tell my mom I’m OK’ ” she said.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Lopez was buried with military honors at Lancaster’s Joshua Memorial Park after a funeral at Rosamond High School, his alma mater. His youth pastor, Charles Wallis, presided over a packed gym.
“There was a huge crowd,” his brother said. “One thousand plus.”
Ramirez said her late father, Lopez’s grandfather, always greeted each of his grandsons with the words “my boy.” Joseph had his grandfather’s name tattooed over his heart.
“I know when his grandfather saw him in heaven,” Ramirez said, “he said, ‘Joey, my boy!’ ”
In addition to his parents, older brother and aunts and uncles, Lopez’s survivors include his brothers Anthony, Richard and Christopher Pratti.