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Sunday, Jun. 25, 2006 at 5:11 AM
Relatives, friends and supporters bid their last farewell to Marine Cpl. Michael Estrella in emotional services Friday. Estrella, 20, a 2003 Hemet High School graduate, was killed June 14 in combat in Iraq, the 2,500th member of the U.S. military to die in that country since the war began, according to Marine officials.
the_flag-draped_casket_of_marine_cpl._michael_a._estrella.jpg, image/jpeg, 299x202
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The flag-draped casket of Marine Cpl. Michael A. Estrella, the 2,500th member of the U.S. military to be killed in Iraq since the war began, arrives Friday at Riverside National Cemetery. Taps were played during the ceremony, and the Estrella family released 21 doves. David Bauman / The Press-Enterprise
Fallen Marine honored at funeral services
12:37 AM PDT on Saturday, June 24, 2006
By HERBERT ATIENZA
Relatives, friends and supporters bid their last farewell to Marine Cpl. Michael Estrella in emotional services Friday.
Estrella, 20, a 2003 Hemet High School graduate, was killed June 14 in combat in Iraq, the 2,500th member of the U.S. military to die in that country since the war began, according to Marine officials.
A funeral Mass was celebrated at Our Lady of the Valley Catholic Church in Hemet, followed by interment at Riverside National Cemetery, where the Marine was honored with a 21-gun salute, and his parents, Francisco and Maria, received his posthumous Purple Heart Medal.
The Rev. Barnabas S. Kileu blessed the Marine's coffin prior to presiding at a bilingual funeral Mass.
"We are very sad, we are very sorry, but something consoles us, and that is the promise of eternal life with Jesus Christ," Kileu, parochial vicar of the Our Lady of the Valley Parish, told a large group of about 150 people.
A diverse crowd gathered for both the Mass and interment services, including family members from different parts of Southern California, veterans, enlisted Marines and colleagues from Hemet High School.
After the Mass, a motorcade took Estrella's remains to Riverside National Cemetery, where Marine pallbearers led grieving friends and family in the emotional but solemn and dignified ceremony at the cemetery's amphitheater.
During the ceremony, taps was played and 21 doves were released by the Estrella family. A lone dove was released by his parents representing their son; the other doves represented well wishes of his loved ones.
"He was a wonderful person and a wonderful cousin," said Cynthia Enriquez, 15, of Redondo Beach, who, like many family members, wore matching white shirts imprinted with a picture of Estrella, describing him as "our family hero that will be truly missed but never forgotten."
Vanessa Lozano, 19, of Santa Ana, remembered her cousin's thoughtfulness and good nature.
"We had a lot of very good times," said Lozano, remembering trips to the beach at San Felipe, Mexico. "He was very close to his cousins and to his family."
Mary Hancock, 21, who was a fellow cadet in the Hemet High JROTC, remembered getting a call from Estrella the night before he was to leave for Iraq three months ago and how he looked forward to it.
"He was just excited about going there and serving his country," Hancock said.
By many accounts, Estrella fulfilled his longtime dream of being a Marine. He was a field radio operator stationed at Marine Corps Base Hawaii.
Lt. Binford Strickland, a spokesman at the base in Hawaii, said Estrella was killed when Marines were attacked by small-arms fire while on foot patrol in Al Anbar Province.
Gov. Schwarzenegger issued a statement expressing condolences to the Estrella family.
"As a Marine, Michael courageously fulfilled his duty to service and responsibility. We owe a debt of gratitude to Michael, his family and all other service personnel for the sacrifices they make to ensure our freedom," Schwarzenegger said in the statement.
Estrella became the second Hemet High alumnus to be killed in Iraq. U.S. Army Spc. Jason Chappell, 22, a 2000 Hemet High graduate and former Hemet High academic decathlon team member, was killed there in January 2004.
Reach Herbert Atienza at 951-763-3464 or hatienza@PE.com
© 2006, The Press-Enterprise Company
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