Andrew Julian Aviles
Lance Corporal, United States Marine Corps
contemporary press reports:
27 January 2004:
Andy Aviles still collected basketball cards. They remain stacked in orderly piles on a bookcase at the foot of his bed, competing for space with toy cars, high school letterman awards, graduation photos and other markers of a boy's life.
On the wall above where he slept, near the academic medals and baseball caps hanging from the bedposts, he had affixed the emblem of the United States Marine Corps, whose uniform he wore when an Iraqi artillery shell struck his armored vehicle near Baghdad and killed him.
Lance Corporal Andrew Julian Aviles was just 18, preparing for his freshman year at Florida State University, when his country called on him to do a man's job. He had committed to the Marine Corps Reserves before his senior year at Robinson High School in south Tampa, before the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, before there was any talk of invading Iraq.
Less than a year after leading the Pledge of Allegiance at his high school graduation, the former student council president and cheerleader found himself preparing to cross the Tigris River last April 7 in the siege of Baghdad. He never made it.
Aviles was one of seven U.S. soldiers in the Iraqi conflict who were 18 when they died, out of more than 500 American casualties so far.
Their grieving families say they had just begun to ponder adult lives that stretched out before them. Some regarded their service in Iraq as a kind of destiny. Others had their eye on grander plans.
Not Andy Aviles. Though he felt a call to national service, he wanted more than anything to be in the north Florida college town of Tallahassee. He graduated third in his high school class, earning a full academic scholarship to FSU. He already knew he wanted to major in business and go into real estate someday, because that's where the money is.
"It's a big waste of his life," said Andy's father, Oscar Aviles, who still struggles to contain his anger and resentment. "He probably could have done anything he wanted to do in life. Because he had the intelligence, he had the capability and he had the discipline to do whatever he set his mind on."
A member of the ROTC in high school, Andy Aviles waved off suggestions that he apply for a military academy appointment. Too much structure. The gregarious, charismatic teenager hankered for what he called "the full college experience."
But the summer before his senior year, he came home and said he wanted to join the Marine Corps Reserves. He'd go off to boot camp during the summer before starting college, then report back to the Reserves installation in Tampa one weekend a month. That way, he could serve his country without messing up college plans.
A weightlifter and physical-fitness buff, the 5-foot-6, 165-pound Aviles hooked up with the Marine Corps Reserves because the training was so physically demanding, his father said. He didn't count on being activated immediately and sent to Iraq with the 4th Marine Assault Amphibian Battalion. Neither did his parents.
In his letters home, he said over and over, "Don't worry"; in letters to friends, he acknowledged he was "a little scared." But he was also sure he would return home soon and safely to resume a life filled with potential.
"We never thought they were going to put him there," said his mother, Norma Aviles. "He felt like he had a sense of duty. He said, 'I have to go, Mom.' He had a commitment and he wasn't going to back out. They messed up all his plans. He was upset he wasn't going to start school."
More than 1,000 people attended Aviles' funeral in Tampa. A hero's burial at Arlington National Cemetery followed. The city and county issued proclamations honoring him. FSU made him an honorary alumnus and gave a full scholarship to his brother, Matthew, who will start there next fall.
His parents are still hearing from soldiers with whom he served in Iraq. Andy was always smiling, always positive, always ready to lift them up when they were down, they say.
None of that has salved his parents' deep emotional wounds.
"After Andy got killed -- that word is still
so hard for me to say -- our world came apart," Norma Aviles said. "That
was his life, and he should be here with his family."
By David Cho
On bended knees, Oscar Aviles and his wife stroked the gold-colored box holding the remains of their son, Marine Lance Corporal Andrew Julian Aviles. They caressed its sides and gently traced its top with their fingers.
It didn't seem real, Oscar Aviles said earlier. Yet there they were, bowing in the sweltering afternoon heat yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, saying a last goodbye.
Their grief was heightened by thoughts of what might have been. "Andy," as everyone called him, was only 18, his father said repeatedly. Just a year ago, he was graduating from high school in Tampa. He was a member of the National Honor Society and student body president. A bright future lay ahead, starting with a full scholarship at Florida State University.
But he put that off to join the Marine Corps reserves and was called up in early February. He told his parents that he thought he would be in Iraq only a short time. On April 7, just 17 days shy of his 19th birthday, Andy Aviles was killed when his amphibious assault vehicle was showered with enemy fire as his unit approached Baghdad.
Yesterday, he became the 24th casualty of the Iraq war buried at Arlington.
"My wife, I don't think she's come to grasp it completely," Oscar Aviles said earlier this week, choking back sobs. "She's still hoping that he's coming back, and so am I, even though I know that's not the case."
Norma Tamayo-Aviles first sensed that something might have happened to her son after hearing a report on her car radio that a Marine from Florida had been killed near Baghdad. No name was given, but she had this worried feeling, she told her husband when she got home.
They knew for sure later that evening when a car pulled into the driveway and five people in uniforms got out. Norma, hearing the car doors shut and the heavy footsteps approaching, ran to the door, crying out, "Oh my God, let it not be them."
Oscar recalled asking the Marines standing on his porch, "Did he just get hurt?" even though he knew better. The men lowered their eyes. After a moment, one of them spoke: "Can we come in?"
It was then that Norma broke into uncontrolled screams and sobs.
Weeks later, the family is struggling to understand and accept what happened.
"It still hasn't hit a lot of our family. It's kind of been a surreal experience," Kristine Aviles, 21, said of her brother's death. "He hadn't even turned 19 yet. He was barely out of high school. . . . It didn't seem the way things were supposed to be at all."
Shock and grief also reverberated at Robinson High School, Principal Kevin McCarthy said. A memorial service in the school courtyard was attended by 1,250 students, more than 50 members of Aviles's family and the mayor of Tampa.
"It was a very touching thing that happened at our school," McCarthy said. "It will not be forgotten. He will not be forgotten."
Oscar Aviles said what he will miss most is his son's humor:
"My fondest memory was his little thing about
calling me 'his dog' -- that's kind of the name for being a good friend
. . . 'What's up, dog? What's up, dog?' That made me feel good. That made
me know that I wasn't only his father, I was his friend. And I knew that
he wasn't only my son."
The cremated remains of Marine Lance Corporal Andrew Aviles were interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. At the time of his death, Aviles was a member of the 4th Assault Amphibian Battalion, 4th Marine Division.
Aviles died when his military convoy came under attack in Iraq on April 7, 2003. The 18-year-old was a graduate of Robinson High School in Tampa.
Aviles was a National Honor Society member,
graduated third in his class and planned to study business at Florida State
University. He put off a full academic scholarship to FSU to serve in the
June 19, 2003
After the funeral, once the honor guard and
relatives had gone, Norma Tamayo-Aviles kneeled alone on the sodden earth
of Arlington National Cemetery.
Tamayo-Aviles touched the edge of the small brass urn, giving it a final, tender kiss.
A final kiss for her son.
Only months ago Lance Corporal Andrew J. Aviles had been a star at T.R. Robinson High School in Tampa, Fla. He had set aside a full college scholarship at Florida State University to drive an amphibious tank in the Marines. He had wanted to fulfill what he felt was a moral obligation.
On April 7, 2003, his future was reduced to these ashes. An enemy artillery round suddenly pounded his position. He had only been crossing a bridge. He would soon have been over to the other side, and, eventually, home. He might have seen victory. He might have seen decades of life.
In two weeks, he would have been 19.
During the funeral, Lonnie Phillips, a Gunnery Sergeant in Aviles' division of the 4th Assault Amphibious Battalion on Gandy Boulevard in Tampa, pressed the neatly folded Stars and Stripes into the mother's shaking hands.
Phillips assured her that the Marines would always be there for her, and if she needed anything, all she had to do was call.
If only they could call Andy.
Those were the thoughts going through Andrew's father's mind. Choking back tears, Oscar Aviles said, ``What I'm thinking? My thought is - my thought - is only...''
Then it rushes out, urgently.
"What I am thinking is that I want him back.''
Beside Andrew Aviles' stone, eight other grave markers lay sideways, still unpacked, wrapped in cardboard and awaiting the remains of more American soldiers.
Andrew was the 26th who died in Iraq to be buried at Arlington Cemetery with full military honors.
Another will be buried Friday, and another after that. Altogether, nearly 286,000 have been interred at the Arlington Cemetery since the Civil War.
By Kathryn Bursch, Tampa Bay News 10
Tampa, Florida – Noisy traffic may whiz by, but at this Tampa intersection near MacDill Air Force Base ,the Aviles family still found their peace. This is where Norma and Oscar would come to visit "their Andy."
Norma Aviles, Marine's mother: "I just say, 'Andy...here I am. Andy, I miss you.'"
Nearly three years ago, someone in the community started a memorial to the teenage Marine killed in Iraq. It started with a large photograph and people added flags, flowers, cards and rosaries. The family surrounded it with some white bricks.
Andy was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery, so this was the nearest place for Norma and Oscar to see their son.
Norma Aviles, Marine's mother: "It is Andy there. His picture... I used to come to clean his picture, wipe his face. And it used to bring memories of wiping his face when he was a little boy."
They came every week with flowers. But on Valentine's Day, their hearts were broken once again. The memorial was gone. Someone had swept the place clean. No picture, no flowers, no flag, and no respect.
Norma Aviles, Marine’s mother: "Oh, it was like somebody really put a knife in my heart."
Oscar Aviles, Marine’s father: "My heart dropped. It was very, very painful. And I still feel the pain."
The Aviles' say state and city workers didn’t remove the memorial. So with President Bush here on Friday, the couple speculates that perhaps someone is trying to shield the President’s eyes from the reality of war.
Oscar Aviles, Marine’s father: ”I would hate to think that is the reason, and I’m hoping it isn’t”
On Thursday, Oscar and Norma plant signs where they usually place flowers and water the placards with tears. The signs ask for information about the missing memorial.
This couple can’t have their son back, so they plead for someone to return his memory and the honor Andy earned.
Oscar Aviles, Marine’s father: ”Those are the
only things we have left of our son.”
Posted: 19 June 2003 Updated: 20 June 2003 Updated: 25 July 2003 Updated: 2 August 2003 Updated: 28 January 2004 Updated: 3 May 2004 Updated: 8 October 2004 Updated: 11 February 2006 Updated: 18 February 2006 Updated: 8 September 2006 Updated: 12 May 2008
Photo By M. R. Patterson, May 2008
Photos Courtesy of Holly, September 2006
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 22 April 2004
Photo By M. R. Patterson, 24 April 2004