Long before he hit Canyon High School in New Braunfels, Brandon Lara knew he wanted to be a Marine. Not even the outbreak of war in Iraq, when relatives tried to persuade him not to sign up, could shake his will.
"Ever since I can remember, he knew exactly what he wanted to do," his stepmother Gloria Lara said of Brandon Lara. "He's always wanted to be military. Since he was little, he was into guns and swords and knives."
Lance Cpl. Brandon Lara, 20, was killed Sunday in Iraq's Anbar Province while supporting combat operations, according to the Department of Defense. Gloria Lara said officials told her they are still investigating his death. It was Brandon Lara's second tour of Iraq. He was scheduled to return home in time for his birthday in October.
So strong was Lara's desire to join the Marines that he finished his credits at Canyon High a semester early, leaving for boot camp before his May 2006 graduation.
"Before he left on his first tour, he was ready to go," Gloria Lara said. "He knew (the war) was going on and that he would be sent over there, and he was OK with that."
The two communicated constantly on the MySpace social networking site. During their last phone conversation, Brandon Lara told her he was thinking of New Braunfels.
"He was kind of down, missing family," she said. "He wanted to come home."
Anbar, home to the former insurgent strongholds of Fallujah and Ramadi, has seen an increase in violence in recent weeks after a period of relative peace. Last week, a suicide bomber killed six police officers and wounded 17 at a checkpoint in the province.
Lara was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger praised Lara on Monday.
"He fought with honor and courage," Schwarzenegger said. "We send our deepest condolences to Brandon's family, friends and fellow Marines as they mourn this terrible loss."
In New Braunfels, family members are trying to cope.
"Everybody's devastated," Gloria Lara said. "We keep looking at it on TV. ... It's just kind of hard to grasp."
Brandon Lara's grandmother, Sofia Torres, said she never imagined that last Christmas would be her last with her oldest grandson.
"Whatever God sends, we have to take it and hold it," Torres said. "But it's going to be hard on us."
Published in Austin American-Statesman from July 21 to July 31, 2009