Know the U.S. Marine who died in defense for a nation he was not a citizen of
This is the story of one U.S. Marine who died for our nation; a nation he was not a citizen of, but he sacrificed his life in defense for.
Marine Lance Corporal José Antonio Gutierrez was killed March 21, 2003 in Umm al Qasr, Iraq during the first days of the Iraq war. At the time of his death, he was not a U.S. citizen.
While his death is tragic, his life story from illegal immigrant to U.S. Marine and American hero is extraordinary.
Born in Guatemala, Gutierrez lost both of his parents at a very young age during that nation’s civil war, which span 36 years. The young child found himself living in the streets of Guatemala City until the age of 8 when he was brought in to live in an orphanage. As he grew older, he deciding to leave Guatemala, one of poorest nations in the world, seeking a better life for himself in the U.S.
In 1997, Gutierrez made the dangerous journey, more than 2,000 miles, from Guatemala to the U.S. hopping on freight trains and hitchhiking to get the U.S. border.
Here is an example of what Jose Gutierrez pilgrimage to the U.S. was like:
After surviving the long and treacherous trek, he entered the U.S. illegally but was quickly detained by authorities. Although he was 22 years old at this point, Gutierrez lied and told immigration officials he was much younger. Poor and desperate to stay in the U.S. and without documentation, family or money, he was granted asylum and given a green card because it was believed he was a minor.
He was placed in a foster home in the Los Angeles suburb of Lomita hoping to become an architect someday. However, wanting to give back to the nation who gave him so much, and dreaming of becoming a U.S. citizen, he enlisted in the U.S. Marines.
After graduating boot camp, Gutierrez was assigned as a rifleman to the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. In January 2003, José and his fellow Marines headed over to the Middle East to take part in the first wave of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was killed by friendly fire during a battle with Iraqi Forces during the first days of the war.
Along with his foster family, Gutierrez left behind a sister in Guatemala who he was hoping to bring to the U.S. after he was granted U.S. citizenship. While Gutierrez never lived to see his dream of becoming an American come true, he was honored and granted American citizenship posthumously.
The words of the Statue of Liberty reads “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Lance Cpl. José Gutierrez is the embodiment of those profound words, and the foundation of U.S. virtues. His foster sister said at the time of his death:
“He wanted to give the United States what the United States gave to him. He came with nothing. This country gave him everything.”
He displayed his gratitude with his life.
From a child living in the streets of Guatemala City to surviving a harrowing journey to the U.S. and earning the title of U.S. Marine, Gutierrez was a fighter and a true testament of strength and will. A son of two nations, he was proud of his roots, and loved his adopted country.
Gutierrez was buried in his homeland of Guatemala.
We remember all those who gave their lives in service to this nation and let’s remember that some of them may not even be citizens of it. We will continue to remember service members like Marine Lance Cpl. José Antonio Gutierrez. Thank you for your service. Semper Fi!
Follow Alex Licea on Twitter @alexlicea82