Tribune - San Gabriel CA
Area soldier killed in Baghdad
Guardsman was due to come home
By Marianne Love Staff Writer
LA PUENTE - Army Spc. Marcelino R. Corniel had just five days left in Baghdad, 13 days before he would arrive stateside and 23 days before saying, "I do."
But the life of the 23-year-old National Guard member from La Puente was cut short Saturday when he was killed in a mortar attack, authorities said.
The death of Corniel, a former Marine assigned to the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 184th Infantry Regiment in Fullerton, has left a huge hole in their life.
"I don't know what I'm going to do without him," said his mother, Elaine Lopez, 43.
Corniel, whose family members called him Ronnie, served four years as a Marine, went to Iraq and was sent back a second time in September with the Army National Guard.
Lopez said she didn't want her son, a Bassett High School graduate, to reenlist, but he told her he wouldn't be sent back to Iraq. The mother of three said her son also told her that he felt like a sitting duck as a guardsman because they weren't trained as well as the Marines were.
Family members have agonized over not knowing exactly how Corniel died; they said he always wore full-body protection.
His grandmother, Geraldine Vigil, described her grandson as confident and a born leader who loved guns, protected the women in the family and was a role model. She said he was set to get a bronze star with a "V" for valor for an incident earlier in Iraq where his actions saved other troops.
"The recruiter for the National Guard saw his Marine experience and sent him to Iraq. He was
supposed to be on his last mission, but they sent him out again," Vigil said.
Vigil said Corniel loved music. He started a band last year called Crash Ride, which recorded a CD titled "Never Forget."
Corniel's biological father died when he was young.
His sisters, Kristen Lopez, 16, a junior at Bassett High School and Kimberly Lopez, 14, a freshman at Bassett, said Corniel was the best brother who always included them in everything he did.
"He had lots of pride and always did what was right. He was brave when everyone else was afraid and \ his commitments to the end," Kimberly said.
Kristen said her brother was a legend at Bassett, made everyone laugh and was a good friend and loved.
The last one to speak with him was his fiancee, Claudia Calderon, 24, of Bellflower.
Calderon said they had set their wedding date.
"He was packed and so happy he was coming home. I told him, `Baby. Be careful. Please take care of yourself,' " she said. "He was the love of my life. I'm numb. I'm still in denial. I can't believe it. I keep my computer and phone by me thinking he's going to call."