In 1994, a lanky 14-year-old orphaned boy in Guatemala City, began a 2,000-mile journey for a better life. Jose Gutierrez hopped 14 freight trains and walked to get to California. He was determined to escape his former life and make a new one in America, the land of opportunity he had heard about from a minister in a children’s shelter back in Guatemala.
With no entry papers, U.S. immigration authorities detained him.
Since the United States doesn’t deport Guatemalan minors who arrive without family, Gutierrez was made a ward of Los Angeles Juvenile Court and placed in a series of group homes and foster families. He learned English and finished high school.
In 1999, when he reached 18, he was made a permanent resident of the United States. He had wanted to go to college to become an architect and joined the Marines to make money for college (and to send to his sister in Guatemala).
At age 22, Lance Cpl. Gutierrez was a rifleman deployed to Iraq. On March 1, 2003, he wrote in a letter to his foster mother: “Pray for all of us, not just me.”
Sadly, less than three weeks later, on March 21st, he died in a firefight near Umm Qasr – by friendly fire.
He was the first U.S. soldier to die during combat in Iraq.
Gutierrez “wanted to give the United States what the United States gave to him. He came with nothing. This country gave him everything.”
This young man gave his life for our country. Lance Cpl. Jose Gutierrez is buried in his home country of Guatemala.
On this Memorial Day, remember him and others that gave the ultimate sacrifice of their lives for our freedom.