Marine Lance Corporal Luis Alberto Figueroa, 21, of Los Angeles, was killed in the battle of Falluja in Iraq on November 18, 2004, while he was conducting a house-to-house search for insurgents.
He was awarded a Purple Heart posthumously, but the medal offers scant consolation to his family. His father Berto, mother Martha, brother Julio, 20, and sister Maria, 13, spend their Sundays at Arlington West, a memorial for America troops killed in Iraq that is re-created weekly by Veterans for Peace on the beach by Santa Monica Pier, and the Normandie Avenue cemetery where he is buried.
His mother said she told Luis one hundred times not to join the Marines. She urged him to take a job at McDonalds, or anything but the Marines. It was too dangerous, she said. She said she didn’t need a hero, just her son to stay home with her.
But he was determined to join the Marines. He went back to school to get his GED and lost 30 pounds in order to qualify for the Corps.
His boot camp experience at Camp Pendleton was brutal. He told his family many stories of endurance, suffering, and humiliation. At one point, a senior officer struck him, scarring his cheek. A fellow recruit committed suicide by shooting himself in the face.
According to his family, the Corps told Luis not talk about these experiences with civilians, but he told his family, because they talked about every thing, and he advised his best friend not to enlist.
His mother remembers walking to McDonalds with him for breakfast one morning. They took a shortcut through the cemetery on Normandie and Luis said he wanted to be buried there, in this cemetery, on the street he had lived on all his life.
He did not want to go to Iraq and considered his options. Being a fugitive would be no life for him and being a felon would limit his future employment opportunities, so, when he got his orders, he went to Iraq.
Marines in Iraq were not adequately provided with such basic supplies as toilet paper, razors, baby wipes, socks and underwear, and he had to buy his own uniform, boots, and bulletproof vest. He called his family every few weeks for supplies. The heat (140 degrees) and dust made him ill, his gun didn’t always work, the bulletproof vests were no good.
When he was killed, his Marten paychecks stopped, in spite of President Bush’s recent promise that families of the dead would be taken care of. Thus far, all the Figueroas have been offered is grief counseling with a Mexican therapist in East Los Angeles who doesn’t speak Spanish.
When recruiters approached the Figueroas’ younger son, Julio, who is taking classes at East Los Angeles College, he told them, “One son is enough for any family to sacrifice.”
Luis’s parents want the war to be over. They don’t want any more young men and women to be sent to Iraq to die. They wish that the recruiters and the ROTC would stop making false promises to the children of the poor. They consider the war a “business interest” of this government.
Luis’ company was deployed for a second tour in Iraq on Sunday, August 28.Luis’s father said, “We love the U.S. Marines, but we all have a responsibility to stop sending young people to Iraq. It is too late for my son, but we can help others.”