Man dies in Iraq from gunshot
SEMPER FI: His family and friends remember the 18-year-old who loved being a Marine.
10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, November 1, 2006
By SONJA BJELLAND
CORONA - Gulf War veteran and retired Marine Genaro Franco sat in his living room talking about how his son loved his mother's lasagna, his Mercedes Benz C320 and spending time with their large, extended family.
He said he also knows his 18-year-old son loved being a Marine.
Jason Franco had been in Iraq less than a month when he died Tuesday. He was the seventh Inland man to die in one of the war's deadliest months and the second Buena Vista High School graduate to die there this year.
About 2 a.m. Tuesday, the family got a knock on the front door. His mother, Guadalupe Franco, asked who it was, and when the answer was the Marine Corps, she knew.
The family had spoken to him just a few hours before he died.
"He was so happy to be there. That's why he volunteered," said his teary-eyed mother, who was glad to have had that last conversation.
Jason Franco also told his father that no matter what happened to him in Iraq, his father should take care of his younger brother, Kristian, 14, and sister Kuuielani, 12.
Officials in Iraq are investigating the death, which the family described as a gunshot wound to the head. The Department of Defense has classified the death as a nonhostile incident, not from action against the enemy. Major Stewart Upton said he did not have more information on the incident but said something initially classified as nonhostile could change after an investigation.
Jason Franco joined the Marine Corps shortly after turning 18 last December. After boot camp and military occupational specialty training, he was stationed at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station and went home to Corona every weekend, Guadalupe Franco said. He told his sergeant that he would volunteer to go to Iraq in advance of the unit's scheduled deployment in February.
With little fanfare, the former swimmer and water-polo player deployed to Iraq on Oct. 5.
"He didn't like saying goodbye," his father recalled.
Jason had wanted to become a Marine to follow in his father and uncle's footsteps. Genaro Franco served in the Marine Corps for 20 years before retiring and works for the U.S. Postal Service.
"He was proud that his dad was there," Guadalupe Franco said of the time her husband served in Kuwait.
Jason started swimming when he was little boy, and the Marine family was stationed in Hawaii. He kept it up, and during his freshman year, he played water polo for Mission Viejo High School. In 2002, the family moved to Corona, where he attended Santiago High School, but he struggled at Santiago, and after learning that he would not graduate on time, he went to Buena Vista High for what he described in a class paper he wrote as "a second chance.".
While there, Jason took classes in law enforcement through the regional occupation program, and he loved math.
Administrators and a teacher at Buena Vista remembered Franco as quiet, cooperative and polite.
"You'd almost have to draw him out for answers," said Dennis Brandt, a teacher who had Jason in his English class and later worked with him in the extended-day program.
"He was a very nice young man, very kind," said Janet Parks, the school's assistant principal.
He also liked to have fun, playing video games, going to parties and hanging out with friends were favorite pastimes. He loved his mother's lasagna and enchiladas; his favorite cat, Lucy Lou; and his new car.
Jason and his cousin, Jeff Ponce, had been good friends growing up.
"We always wanted to have fun," Ponce said. "Always looking for something to keep us entertained."
Staff writer Shirin Parsavand contributed to this story.
Reach Sonja Bjelland at 951-893-2114 or sbjelland@PE.com
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