Many of the eight men now presumed dead after their amphibious assault vehicle sunk in deep water off San Clemente Island were celebrating milestones in their personal lives as they trained for their military careers.
An 18-year-old from Corona was marking his first anniversary as a Marine, a new dad had a first son back home in Texas and a Portland man would have turned 19 during the 40-hour search-and-rescue effort that was mounted to find the group. A ninth Marine was found dead shortly after the AAV vanished from the surface.
The eight, based at Camp Pendleton, were all riflemen with Battalion Landing Team 1/4 and have been missing since Thursday, July 30, when their AAV took on water and sank during the training exercise.
Military officials called off the search and rescue early Sunday after more than 1,000 square nautical miles of ocean were scoured using multiple ships and aircraft from the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The HOS Dominator, a Navy ship that specializes in undersea search and rescue, has taken over recovery efforts.
Pfc. Bryan Baltierra
Baltierra, 18, of Corona died on the anniversary of his Marine Corps enlistment.
He was just 17 when he entered the Marines in 2019 after graduating from Centennial High and turned 18 while finishing boot camp.
“Brian was a terrific role model and a terrific kid for us on our campus, we’re heartbroken over his loss,” said Bill Gunn, assistant principal of athletics at Centennial, where Baltierra ran cross-country.
“On one hand, we’re happy that he got to achieve his dream of being a United States Marine,” Gunn said. It’s tragic, he said, that Baltierra’s time was cut short at the beginning of this next phase in his life.
Jared Schweitzer was Baltierra’s cross-country coach for four years and his teacher in government and economics.
“Everyone liked him; he was just that kind of a kid,” Schweitzer said. “No matter what I asked at practice, he would do it and not complain. He had a lot of integrity. He was great to be around.”
On Sunday, Aug. 2, the Baltierra family held a drive-by memorial in Corona to celebrate his life. Hundreds stopped by.
“It was beautiful to see how my family’s community came together,” his mother, Evelyn Baltierra, said on Monday. “All of the love and support has tremendously helped during this long and painful healing process.”
Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco
Barranco, 21, known as “Andy,” was from Montebello.
He was a kind-hearted person with a lot of love to share, said his father, Marco Barranco, also of Montebello.
Andy Barranco developed a fascination for the military as a young boy. He loved dressing up as a soldier for Halloween.
“He used that costume for a long time because he liked camouflage,” his father said. “He wanted to serve his country because he was so proud that it gave his parents an opportunity to realize our dreams. He wanted to pay back the country for that.”
Marco Barranca last saw his son on July 25. The family shared a meal and Andy told them of the upcoming training on the island.
“He was excited to be going there,” Marco Barranco said. “To him, it was a job that he loved to do.”
Barranco said his son’s goal was to serve people. He had planned to become a police officer after finishing his time with the Marines.
“He liked helping and serving people, and he knew this was part of his overall plan,” he said. “He was a brave kid, and it shouldn’t have happened.”
Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva
The 21-year-old from Riverside had always wanted to be a Marine, his mother, Maria Villanueva, said in news reports.
She added that he had just gotten married and had hoped to have a family.
He enlisted on Sept. 5, 2017, and after boot camp reported to Marine Corps Security Force training in Virginia. He reported to Camp Pendleton in March.
Maria Villanueva said she wants her son remembered as a kind, outgoing person.
U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem
The 22-year-old Stockton native was the only Navy sailor in the group. Likely, he was responsible for helping others get out, his girlfriend, Savannah Henne, wrote in a heartfelt Facebook post.