Marine Cpl. Joshua D. Pickard, 20, Merced; killed by a sniper in Iraq

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

On leave last spring after his first tour of duty in Iraq, Marine Corps Cpl. Joshua D. Pickard visited elementary school classes near his home in Merced, Calif., and tried to put his combat experience into perspective.

“A lot of kids have the perception that the Iraqi people are a bunch of bad people,” said Pickard’s uncle, Rob Scheidt. “He really told the kids that there are more good people there than bad, and that it was really his honor and privilege to support those good people.”

Pickard let students try on his body armor and helmet, and showed a photo of a bubble-gum contest among his friends. He won -- with 88 pieces of gum in his mouth at one time.

“He brought it down to their level,” said Lynn Stapp, a kindergarten teacher at Allan Peterson Elementary School in Merced, whose classroom he visited. “They were just like, ‘Oh, wow!’ ”

Pickard, 20, was killed by a sniper Dec. 19 near Fallouja, west of Baghdad, during his second deployment. He was an amphibious assault vehicle driver assigned to the 2nd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Lejeune, N.C.

Relatives described Pickard as adventurous, easygoing and a lover of the outdoors. He enjoyed snowboarding, wakeboarding, four-wheeling, hunting and wrestling.

“Wrestling was like a family thing,” said his brother Darren, 23, a Marine sergeant who served two tours in Iraq and is now an instructor at Camp Pendleton. “Every Christmas, Thanksgiving, birthday party ... the family would clear a space out in the middle of the living room, and everybody would go at it.”

Darren Pickard said he and his brother were never in Iraq at the same time but they shared a sense of mission. “I never worried about myself, but we all kind of worried about him because he’s the more action-prone one of the family,” he said.

Take, for example, the time that Joshua rode his bike off the dock at a lake near his home. The bike slid out from underneath him and he required treatment at a trauma center in Fresno.

“It was a huge scar that he’d call his shark bite,” his brother said.

Joshua Pickard joined the Marines in 2004 after graduating from Buhach Colony High School.

“Joshua was trying to climb up the ranks and catch up with Darren,” said their mother, Terri. “It was nice the competition that they had.”

She said Joshua’s outlook on life changed when he went on a mission trip during his senior year in high school, helping to build homes for the poor in Mexico.

“He came home and he just said how awesome it was and how good it felt to build a home for these people,” she said. “Even though you didn’t know their language and they didn’t know yours, you knew exactly what they said.”

Since Joshua died, Terri Pickard has received letters from students at McSwain Elementary School, which Joshua once attended and where he spoke to a third-grade class last year. Some of the notes were bound in a book with drawings of Marines with angel wings.

Although many of the kids had never met him, “they are just torn up and just sad,” his mother said.

She said the impact her son had on others can be seen in a letter written to Joshua after his death by four corporals who served with him.

“It was you who raised our spirits when we were down, made us smile when it seemed as if there was nothing to smile about ... ,” the letter states. “God doesn’t make men like you very often.”

In addition to his mother and brother Darren, Pickard is survived by his father, Larry; two other brothers, Dylan and Tyson; and his grandparents.

The family has asked that anyone wanting to honor Joshua’s life make donations to Gateway Community Church in Merced to help students go on the Mexico mission trip.