|Birth: ||Jun. 26, 1984|
New York, USA
|Death: ||Jun. 23, 2005, Iraq|
BY MAKI BECKER
DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER
She wanted to serve her country and make her immigrant mom proud.
In the end, Cpl. Ramona Valdez did so much more - before making the ultimate sacrifice.
Valdez, a Bronx native, was one of six U.S. military personnel - four of them women - killed in Iraq when a suicide bomber struck their convoy near Fallujah last Thursday.
All her life, Valdez accomplished things ahead of her time. She graduated from a Bronx high school at 15. She joined the U.S. Marine Corps when she was 17 - her mom co-signing the papers because she was too young to commit herself.
She married at 18, finding love in a fellow Marine, Cpl. Armando Guzman.
And when she died, she was only three days from her 21st birthday.
The Marines initially had trouble finding Valdez's family, which moved from the Bronx to Reading, Pa., in March.
"Our [former] neighbors called and they said, 'There are some Marines looking for you,'" said her heartbroken sister, Fiorela Valdez.
The uniformed officers arrived at the family's new home Friday morning to report that Valdez had been involved in an incident and that her status was unknown, the sister said.
"As soon as my mother saw them, she just collapsed," Fiorela Valdez said.
Two days later, the Marines returned to deliver the terrible news that Ramona Valdez was dead.
In her exemplary life, Ramona Valdez did many things to make her family proud.
Her mother, Elida Nuņez, had raised her daughters on her own after moving to New York from the Dominican Republic.
To help her mom, who worked as a home attendant, Ramona Valdez worked extraordinarily hard to finish school early - supplementing her mom's pay with part-time jobs. Her first job was selling concessions at the Statue of Liberty at age 14.
"She was always a hardworking girl," her sister said.
Valdez graduated from Jane Addams High School, a vocational school, just before turning 16, then went to community college for two semesters.
Then she and her best friend, Estee Franco, decided to join the Marines, enlisting at the Fordham Road recruiting station.
"She wanted a better life and she was a very patriotic person," her recruiter, Staff Sgt. Marcos Rodriguez, recalled.
Ramona Valdez, he recalled, "was a very inspiring young lady."
In preparing for boot camp at Parris Island in May 2002, Ramona Valdez showed up almost every day for workouts and helped out often at the recruiting station.
After making it through the grueling, 70-day training program, she quickly rose through the ranks and was recently promoted to corporal.
"I talked to her prior to her leaving [for Iraq]," Rodriguez said. "She was excited about going overseas. She really wanted to go."
Ramona Valdez, a communications specialist assigned to the Headquarters Battalion of the 2nd Marine Division, was deployed to Iraq in February. She worked with Iraqi forces, training them to stamp out the insurgency.
Once her enlistment was up next year, Ramona Valdez planned to move to Pennsylvania to be with her family, where she had hoped to work for the state highway patrol and enroll at a four-year college. "We had just gone to mail a box of candies and her birthday card and to send her SAT books," her sister told the Daily News. "I'm really, really, really proud of her."
Ramona Valdez's mother recalled yesterday her daughter's touching devotion to her family. "She always used to tell me she was really proud of me," Nuņez said in Spanish, as her daughter translated. "I would say, 'No, I'm really proud of you.'"
Ramona Valdez's husband, who has served two tours in Iraq, was understandably crushed by the loss of his wife. "He's really, really sad," Fiorela Valdez said. "He's just saying he's going to go back to Iraq. For him to be okay with his conscience, he has to go back to Iraq. They took his wife away from him."
Yesterday, the family began the sad task of making funeral arrangements as relatives in the Dominican Republic prayed for her at special church services.
Just before leaving for Iraq, Fiorela and Ramona Valdez drove down from New York to Camp Lejeune, N.C., together. "That was a really sad day," Fiorela Valdez recounted. "We just looked at each other. We just said, 'Everything's going to be okay. I'll see you soon.'"
Originally published on June 29, 2005
Created by: Cindy
Record added: Jun 29, 2005
Find A Grave Memorial# 11260324