Strangers, community offer comfort to slain Torrance soldier’s family

first_img “People we haven’t talked to in years, people we don’t even know so many people caring. I’m honored,” Anzack Sr. told the Daily Breeze on Thursday. A day after receiving the news no father wants to hear, Anzack Sr. and friends and relatives of his son were struggling to make peace with his brutal killing in Iraq. “I love my Joseph,” the elder Anzack said by phone. “I’m just really gonna miss him. I am.” “It was all we could do just to function yesterday,” his aunt, Dawn Anzack-Ayers, said in earlier phone conversation. “We’re just trying to get our bearings right now. We’re just laying low today, praying for all the guys over there now.” Anzack Sr. said he learned Thursday that his son’s body may arrive in the U.S. as soon as today, and that the Army, by regulation, will conduct DNA tests before releasing Joseph Jr.’s remains. Plans for a funeral or memorial service have not been made. Anzack Sr. is still awaiting a copy of his son’s will – the military requires all its soldiers to complete one – to determine where to bury him. “Whatever his wishes were, that’s what we’ll do,” Anzack Sr. said. “If he asked for Arlington, he’s there. I think that’s an option for us and it’s an honor being there.” Anzack Jr., on his first tour in Iraq, had been missing with two fellow soldiers since a May 12 ambush on their patrol that left four Americans and one Iraqi dead. Al-Qaida later claimed responsibility for the attack and the abductions of the three infantrymen. Word surfaced early Wednesday that a body in a U.S. military uniform had been pulled from the Euphrates River. The Anzack family learned late that afternoon that the casualty, who had been shot in the head, was 20-year-old Joseph Jr. The search continues for Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich. “It’s just sad, and I wish they could find those other two boys,” Anzack-Ayers told the Daily Breeze. “That’s all I can say. It’s just sad.” The mood was somber at Anzack Jr.’s alma mater, South High in Torrance, on Thursday, when the 2,300-student campus shared a moment of silence and seven grief counselors were on site to offer assistance. As the hours passed, a makeshift memorial spread across the school’s front steps – bright bouquets of flowers; flags of all sizes; a garland of red, white and blue; some candles burning in glass, others melting colorfully on the pavement. At the center of it all, a hand-penned poster bearing the words “We love and miss you Joe Anzack. You’re our hero.” Personal messages written in the placard’s remaining white space expressed disbelief over the soldier’s death and love for a fallen friend. “Joe man I freakin’ miss you. I wish this was just a bad dream,” one entry read. “I wanna let you know I love you and I will never forget you till we meet agen (sic) my friend, you will always be in my heart.” Across campus, students, faculty and coaches all remembered the 2005 graduate – a standout nose guard on the varsity football team – as a quiet kid with a big presence and a kind heart who wanted more than anything to be in the Army. “When I think about Joe I can picture him in his Army pants. He wore them to school at least once a week,” said graduating senior Malissa Vasquez, 18, describing Anzack Jr. as “somebody you could always talk to,” “accepting of everybody,” and “always positive.” “I remember him saying if there was one thing he really wanted to do, it was to join the Army and go to Iraq,” Vasquez continued. “He wanted to fight for his country. That’s what he wanted to do with his life, and he did it.” When school let out Thursday afternoon, the varsity football squad gathered in a giant huddle on the South High field for an impromptu memorial for Anzack Jr., where head coach Josh Waybright said he told his players that their former teammate is “in a better place now, that God has him.” Once the team dispersed, Waybright wound his way across the sprawling South High campus and through the administration buildings, eventually emerging from the main doors carrying Anzack Jr.’s old jersey, No. 52. He said the team will retire the number and dedicate the coming season to him. After draping the white-and-green jersey over a steel railing – an emotion-laden addition to the heartfelt memorial that drew even strangers to leave mementos – Waybright characterized Anzack Jr. as “loyal, committed, dedicated,” “a great role model,” and “the type of kid that would do anything for you.” “If I was in the Army, I’d want Joe Anzack next to me,” the coach said. “He put others before himself. That was probably one of his greatest attributes.” “I don’t think you get a better teammate than Joe Anzack.”160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Joseph Anzack Sr. breathed deep before he read the message aloud, his voice cracking almost as soon as he started. “Miss me a little, but not too long, and not with your head bowed low. Remember the love that once was shared. Miss me but let me go.” “That gave me a good cry,” he said after finishing, exhaling another long sigh to steady his voice. An anonymous poem, posted on his Web page by a stranger, was just one of the many unexpected gestures helping Anzack cope with the death in Iraq of his son, Pfc. Joe Anzack Jr., 20.last_img read more

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