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Soldier Remembered As A Hero

CONCORD: Friends, family, fellow servicemen gather to honor ‘the Guz,’ killed in Afghanistan

By Tanya Rose
STAFF WRITER

Article Launched: 03/18/2008 03:04:35 AM PDT

Army Sgt. Gabriel Guzman was tough.

His uncle, Derek Tucker, told a story about a game they once played on a trampoline.

The boy had rolled up in a little, tight ball, and Tucker jumped and tried to break his grip, or force him to unroll by bouncing him higher and higher.

The game is called Crack the Egg, and most people with trampolines have played it. Guzman refused to crack.

“It got to the point where he was bouncing above our heads,” Tucker said at Guzman’s memorial service Monday morning.

Guzman, who attended Concord High School and lived in the city as an adolescent, was killed in Afghanistan on March 8. He was 25. Friends and family, including his 7-year-old daughter, gathered at Ouimet Brothers Concord Funeral Chapel to say goodbye.

At the end of that egg game, Guzman ended up bouncing up and away from the trampoline, Tucker continued.

“He landed on the rocks, and when he got up, he was dazed, but he didn’t cry. That’s what it took to crack that egg,” he said.

It was a glimpse into who Guzman would become as an adult, his uncle said — strong, brave, quiet.

Fast-forward a few years — away from the skinny, smiling child memorialized in photos — to Guzman as an adult, a father, a soldier. He joined the Army at age 21 as a way to get on a good path and provide for his family. People looked up to him. Childhood nicknames gave way to adult ones. Those he served with started calling him “the Guz.”

Now, people call him a hero. He was awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star at the end of the service Monday.
He had been a paratrooper, knowing he could be deployed anywhere in the world within an 18-hour range. He had a stint in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, and spent 24 months abroad. He trained cadets, all of whom were impressed with his knowledge, said Capt. Greg Mendez, who served with him. He also worked as a forward air controller directing military aircraft engaged in close-air support of land forces.

“He would perform team duties by himself, and never once did I hear him complain,” Mendez said. “He’s still the best team I’ve ever had.”

Mendez read aloud some comments from fellow soldiers, many of whom spoke at a memorial service for Guzman in Afghanistan.

“The guy was a walking field manual,” one said.

Another wrote that when he forgot his cold weather gear, Guzman shared his poncho with him overnight.

Still another, a superior officer, wrote of a time Guzman had been moving up and down rugged terrain for days with other soldiers. Then helicopters and Harrier Jump Jets arrived.

“Guz checked in all the aircraft and issued orders,” said the officer “I said, ‘Hell, that guy’s doing my job. Just keep the aircraft under his control.’

“Guz would do what 10 to 30 men usually do as a team,” Mendez read on, still quoting the superior. “But there he’d be by himself, with a map and a flashlight.”

One after one, those who knew him best got up to speak of him, to talk of how their hearts had been ripped out by his death.

As photos of Guzman popped up on a television screen above Shelley Tucker’s head, she talked of her son. There he was with his daughter, Angel, lying on his bare chest. There he was as a baby himself.

“I loved having Gabe for my son,” she said, her throat tight. “It’s going to be hard for me to imagine a world without him in it. He was one of those people you knew was destined for something big.

“Gabe, we’re here to say goodbye,” she said. “You did make a difference in this world.”

His sister Anni Watson said she’d always think of him as her baby brother.

“Don’t forget him,” she said to the full chapel. “Next time you make a joke, think of him and how he found comedy in everything.”

Heidi Guzman, his other sister, talked of the special attention he paid to her children when they were born. And how he embraced differences.

“He never judged anyone, and he saw two sides to everything,” she said.

Then the service was almost over.

Members of the 82nd Airborne Division, soldiers who served with Guzman, fired three gunshots just outside the chapel door. The noise startled a baby, who cried. A lone bugler played taps.

Everyone lined up to hug Shelley Tucker. Some hugs were long and tight, and some, soft and short. They whispered in her ear, and she nodded and smiled. Some were people she didn’t know, but they knew her son.

Then the casket made its way to the hearse, and veterans saluted in slow motion.

Reach Tanya Rose at 925-943-8345 or trose@bayareanewsgroup.com.