Hearing the national anthem this year for one Danville father is especially difficult.
Arnie Corral celebrated the first Fourth of July since his 19-year old son, Lance Cpl. Josh “Chachi” Corral, was killed by an improvised explosive device in November.
This year, the patriotic holiday takes on an especially significant meaning, and the Corral family will be spending America's birthday with Chachi's military friends to honor the bittersweet occasion.
While Corral had hoped his son wouldn't join the military because he felt it too dangerous, he ended up supporting his son's mission in Afghanistan.
“It’s a deep, honorable meaning that when I think about Chach," the elder Corral said. "I don’t think when I hear it now, I can keep a dry eye.”
The younger Corral, a graduate of San Ramon Valley High School, was the primary sweeper, the Marine at the front of the group who used a metal detector to find and avoid IED’s, in the dangerous Afghan province of Helmand.
Fellow Marines Andrew Vu, 20, and Zach Garfield, 20, were behind Chachi that day on Nov. 18. They came to Danville for the Fourth of July, and recalled just how brave their friend had been, owning the role of primary sweeper.
The Marines-turned-brothers are spending a three-day vacation from their Marine Corps base south of Los Angeles to be with the Corral family.
“He’s really selfless guy just in general, and he was the perfect guy for the job. I don’t think anyone did it better,” Garfield said.
The second of four brothers and a baseball fan, Corral graduated second out of 700 in boot camp, something his parents are very proud of. His father says he will always be thankful he had such a brave son, one who is now recognized by a very supportive community.
“I would just tell him how proud I am of him," Corral said of his son. "We walk around town, people come up to us and just thank us for Chach and what he did for our country.”
The Corrals founded a new group, “Semper Fi Foundation,” a month after they learned of their son’s death. The foundation is dedicated to helping severely injured Marines and families of fallen soldiers. Arnie Corral says they raised more than $20,000 in a June 23 fundraiser.
As for Chachi’s fellow Marines, they say they may have to go back to Afghanistan in winter 2013. Vu is asking his old friend to watch over them.
“Look down on us, protect us," Vu said. "We’ll see you soon.”
See Stephanie Chuang's full report at 6 p.m. Follow her at @StephChuang.