By the time he graduated from Rancho Cucamonga's Alta Loma High School in 2008, Ronnie Pallares had already enlisted in the Army.
That came as a surprise to his family; Pallares had talked about becoming a police officer or perhaps going into journalism because he loved to write. He had never indicated an interest in the military, and at first his mother was not prepared to give permission for her eldest child to join before the age of 18.
"Ronnie was 17 1/2, and I sat him down the day the recruiter came" to the high school, Brenda Pallares said. "I told him, 'Everything sounds fine and dandy, but let's face reality; there's a war going on.'
"I looked him straight in the eye and asked him, 'You are telling me that you are willing to die for this country?' He stood up and said, 'Yes, Mom. Either you sign this or I will sign up when I am 18.' I decided to support him. I'll never forget that day."
Pallares, 19, combat engineer, died Oct. 23 in central Afghanistan's Ghazni province when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. It was five days before his 20th birthday.
Like other family members, Pallares' uncle Vince Pallares was not happy at first with his nephew's decision to enlist, fearing the happy-go-lucky young man who loved music and sports was not cut out for military life.
"I tried to talk him out of it," he said. "He told me that if every person who wanted to enlist could be talked out of it, who would be left to fight for our freedom?"
Pallares was born in Pomona but grew up in Rancho Cucamonga and seemed to spend all his spare time playing sports or following his beloved Dodgers and Lakers.
Dawn and Ronald Smith coached Pallares in Little League, where he became an All Star third-baseman.
He was always trying to keep up the spirits of his teammates, the couple said.
"Things could be looking bad, and he would say, 'Let's turn it around! That's OK,'" Dawn Smith said. "He was always trying to help the other guys on the team. He touched so many people in such a positive manner."
She said that when Pallares was home on leave in August, he came by the local Little League field to watch some games. Pallares had talked about coaching one day.
Brenda Pallares last spoke to her son Oct. 13, and they talked with excitement about his unit's return home in the coming weeks. "He said, 'Mom, we did it, we made it through,'" she said.
Pallares was assigned to the 27th Engineer Battalion at Ft. Bragg, N.C., and was on his first deployment. He was scheduled to return to the United States in December and was looking forward to marrying his fiancee, Vanessa Jauregui, family members said.
The Rancho Cucamonga community has rallied around the family, gathering recently below a city-sponsored banner on Haven Avenue in honor of military personnel to sing "Happy Birthday" to the slain soldier. The banner now carries a gold star, signifying a slain soldier.
Last week, several hundred people attended a memorial service for Pallares that lasted more than two hours because of the number of people who wished to speak.
"It has been overwhelming," Brenda Pallares said. "Our community has been such a great support. You don't realize what this kid meant out there."
In addition to his mother, Pallares' survivors include his brothers, Danny Ray Aguayo, John Albert Garcia and Roland Garcia; his sisters, Priscilla Garcia and Alexandrea Garcia; and his grandparents, Richard and Lucy Pallares. Burial was at Riverside National Cemetery.
Pallares sometimes translated his love of music and writing into poems he posted on his Facebook page, a practice he continued while serving in Afghanistan. One poem titled "Bagram Afghanistan" gave voice to his passion to serve. The end reads:
So for the people, who read this, don't feel bad for me, This is what I wanted to do, to make sure you all are free.
I have no regrets, no matter what happens from now till then.
And while I'm here, I will always volunteer to be the one they send.
Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times
Ronnie J. Pallares enlisted in the Army immediately after graduating from Alta Loma High School in 2008. He made many friends in high school, and his winning personality carried over to his time in the military. "He was exceptionally friendly and extroverted; just the kind of guy that earns valued friends wherever he goes," said Capt. Jeffery Donaldson, his company commander, in a written statement. "In a closely-knit combat unit like ours, Specialist Pallares was a friend to everyone, executing his own tasks with well-trained proficiency."
Spc. Pallares was loved by his family, friends and leaders, Donaldson said. "I've literally never seen a group so happy to promote someone as when his platoon put the rank on his chest," Donaldson said. "Everybody was looking forward to witnessing the incredible potential of Ronnie Pallares - a fact that makes his early passing so much more painful."
Spc. Ronnie J. Pallares was assigned to the 27th Engineer Battalion, Fort Bragg, N.C.. Pallares served as a combat engineer during route clearance operations, and was on his first deployment. During his service, Pallares received the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Action Badge and Parachutist Badge.
Spc. Ronnie J. Pallares completed his final mission in Andar district, Ghazni, Afghanistan, on October 23, 2010 from wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device. He was 19 years old. October 28, 2010 would have been his 20th birthday.
In honor of Pallares' service, flags were flown at half-staff at the state Capitol building in Sacramento on Monday. "Serving in the armed forces is a noble calling that Specialist Ronnie Pallares bravely answered," Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said in a statement. "He faced danger to defend our freedoms and we honor his courage and commitment to our country. As they mourn this tragic loss of a young life, Maria and I offer our deepest condolences to Ronnie's family, friends and fellow soldiers."
Pallares' mother, Brenda Pallares, arrived at LA/Ontario International Airport Tuesday after viewing her son's body at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. A group of veterans, led by the Patriot Guard Riders, welcomed Brenda Pallares in Ontario and escorted her to Haven Avenue near Sixth Street, the site of Pallares' military banner. Nearly 50 motorcycles decorated with American flags were part of the procession in Pallares' honor. Pallares' uncle, Ricky Pallares, looked up at the sea of American flags and said, "Ronnie deserves all this, he deserves the best." With the photo of a smiling Pallares waving overhead, friends and relatives prayed and hung on to each other, wondering how they lost a loved one at such a young age.
His mother Brenda stood tearfully with his his grandparents, Richard and Lucy Pallares, as they all looked up toward his military banner. "I'm still numb," said Pallares' fiance, Vanessa Jauregui. Jauregui remembers her fiance as a soldier who was romantic at heart, penning her poems during courtship. She said she was attracted to Pallares ever since she met him during their junior year together at Alta Loma High School. She remembers Dec. 12, 2008 was the date their relationship became exclusive. Ronnie had the date tattooed on his arm.
Loving thoughts of Spc. Pallares were expressed by family and friends in online tributes. His aunt Edith Tobar wrote: "My beautiful nephew so much full of life your wonderful smile oh how I'm going to miss you greatly Ronnie you left too soon. I'm so proud of the young man you were. I love you. The gap I feel in my heart is so empty for your presence. Love, your Tia." His sister Priscilla and cousin Nina added these heartfelt words: "We can not believe this pumpkin. We had many good times together. You will be greatly missed by everyone. We love you very much and you will always have a special place in our hearts!!!!xoxox"
"Ronnie, I'll never forget your smile!" said friend Serina Perez. "You were loved by so many. Thank you for all the laughs we shared. May you rest in peace." "Ronnie, you were a special type of friend," Chelsea Brandler wrote: "someone who always put others needs before yours, and you've always been brave. You may have lost the battle, but you definitely won the war. May you rest in peace, and I'll always love you and miss you." Josh Russo added these thoughts: "You will forever be missed Ronnie, you were a great friend and was always in a good mood. I have a lot of good memories about you and those will never go away.
Longtime friend Ashlee Sanchez poured out her heart and shared many memories: "We go to your flag every night and I just sit there and your face just pops in my head as I stare at the candles. Memories flood through my head and they don't stop. I was really looking forward to you coming home. Ronnie please be here for Vanessa she needs you and is lost without you. She needs the one person she truly loved with all her mind body and soul. Please just comfort her heart and somehow let her know that you are there with her. She needs to feel your presence and your love in her heart. Ronnie continue to watch over us and keep us strong. I love you and miss you best friend."
In addition to love poems, Pallares also wrote poems about his service. Taped to a light pole in what has become a makeshift memorial on Haven Avenue is a poem from Pallares that reads, "This is what I wanted to do, to make sure you all are free. I have no regrets, no matter what happens from now till then. And while I'm here, I will always volunteer to be the one they send."
Celebration of the life of Spc. Ronnie J. Pallares will be held on November 2, 2010. Patriot Guard Riders will escort the family and body of Spc. Ronnie J. Pallares to the Abundant Living Church in Cucamonga, CA for a visitation and then on to the Chapel of Peace Mortuary in Pomona, CA for burial with full military honors.
Our prayers are spoken for the family and friends of this fine young soldier. Spc. Ronnie J. Pallares we are so very grateful for your love of this country and your service and sacrifice for it. Father hold this special soldier in your loving arms and tell him of our appreciation for his life.
Respectfully submitted ~ Debbie Frith