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Marine Sgt. Duane R. Rios

Died April 4, 2003 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom

25, of Griffith, Ind.; assigned to 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif.; killed during a firefight in central Iraq.

The last time Duane Rios spoke to his wife was her birthday, the day after Valentine’s Day.

Rios, 25, was calling from the Middle East, where he had deployed about 10 days earlier with the Marines.

“He told me he loved me, that he wanted to come home,” Erica Rios told The Indianapolis Star. “It sounds so clich©d, but you couldn’t ask for anything better in a friend and a husband.”

Rios died April 4 during in a firefight on the edge of Baghdad.

“He did his job with pride because it was something that he felt was right,” Erica Rios said from the couple’s home in San Clemente, Calif., near Camp Pendleton, where he was stationed. “He was my angel. Now, he’s gone.”

Rios was a 1996 graduate of Griffith High School. He married his high school sweetheart, Erica, in 1998 in Las Vegas and joined the Marines a year later.

Rios was a father figure to his brother, John Robert, 18, who said: “If there was anything that I needed, he would get it for me.”

When Rios walked into a room, the atmosphere would change, said Erica’s uncle, George Shawn Jr. “He had a smile that would just brighten up the room. It just affected everyone. He was always there for somebody who needed help.”

In his hometown, someone place a framed photo of Rios, in his Marine uniform, at a memorial to wartime casualties in the town park.

“Duane, you will always be missed and never forgotten,” reads a note left there. “You are a hero to everyone.”

— USA Today and The Associated Press

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