Carlos Pineda's 5-year-old sister keeps asking when he will come home. Although more than 100 people packed into his funeral, she insists the man in the wooden box was a doll, not her brother.
"What do I say to her?" asked Pineda's mother, Silvia Hernandez.
Pineda, 23, of Los Angeles, was killed June 24 by small-arms fire during combat in Fallujah. He was based at Camp Lejeune.
Pineda, a native of El Salvador, grew up fast in East Los Angeles. His father was murdered by local gang members when Pineda was 9, and he quickly became the man of the family, acting as an older brother to other kids in the neighborhood.
Pineda, known to his buddies as "Cheese," took an early interest in law enforcement. He joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Explorer Program in high school and became a mentor to at-risk teens.
He entered the Marine Corps after graduating from high school in 2001 and hoped to return to the Sheriff's Department and start a family with his wife, Ana.