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Army Pfc. Justin A. Verdeja

Died June 5, 2007 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

20, of La Puente, Calif.; assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.; died June 5 in Baghdad of wounds sustained when his unit was attacked by insurgents using small-arms fire.

20-year-old soldier dies in Iraq ambush

The Associated Press

FORT CARSON, Colo. — A 20-year-old Fort Carson soldier died in an ambush in Iraq this week, the Army announced June 8.

Pfc. Justin Verdeja of La Puente, Calif., died June 5, becoming the 204th soldier from Fort Carson to die in Iraq.

He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.

Verdeja’s page became a memorial after the death was announced.

He enlisted in the infantry after graduation, and arrived at Fort Carson in April 2006.

Soldier from La Puente killed in Iraq

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — Army Pfc. Justin Verdeja joined the military so he could one day buy his mother a house.

But Verdeja, 20, of La Puente, died June 5 after being hit by small-weapons fire from insurgents in Baghdad.

He went to Iraq in October as part of the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, based in Ft. Carson, Colo. The Army posthumously awarded Verdeja the Bronze Star.

Verdeja excelled as a triple-jumper and wide receiver at Garfield High School. During his senior year, he got a job as a busboy at the Stinking Rose restaurant in Beverly Hills.

Some of the money he earned went to his mother and his younger brothers.

“He would do anything to make me happy. I’m the younger brother, so he always kind of looked after me. He always made sure that I was good,” said Jonathan Guerra, who planned to get images of his brother’s dog tags tattooed on his neck and chest.

On Verdeja’s MySpace home page, he talked about much his family meant to him.

“It is the most important thing in my life, I believe that in the end u will always have family.”

Verdeja had plans to attend college and dreamed of being a police officer.

“He wanted to serve his country and at the same time get an education. Well, the education never came,” said his mother Gina Gonzalez.

Verdeja is survived by his mother and five brothers.

Friends remember California soldier killed in Iraq

The Associated Press

Army Pfc. Justin A. Verdeja always urged bickering friends to set aside their differences, to never allowing petty conflicts to destroy friendships.

“He was always calm and collected, but had a great sense of humor,” said Kalla Guerrero, a classmate.

Verdeja, 20, of La Puente, Calif., was killed June 5 in Baghdad during small-arms fire. The second-oldest of six brothers, he was assigned to Fort Carson, Colo.

Friends recalled Verdeja’s obsession with skulls, frequently purchasing T-shirts, rings or necklaces that had the bones on them.

“It was not an unhealthy obsession,” Guerrero said. “He was known in high school as the skull guy.”

The multi-sport athlete graduated from high school in East Los Angeles in 2005 and attended Cerritos Community College.

While working as a busboy in a restaurant, he gave the majority of his paycheck to his mother. He enlisted in the Army in 2006, hoping to earn study money and enough to make a down payment on a house.

“He wanted to help his little brothers, and he loved his mother dearly. He was a mama’s boy,” said Jonathan Guerra, a brother.

“He always wanted something better for us.”

He also is survived by his mother, Gina Gonzalez.

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