It’s just past the high-point of the Major League Baseball cycle. Americans are relishing the swaggering of the playoffs and the nail-biting action of the World Series. Someone’s favorite team—and hated rival—will win bragging rights and the big title.This year, one devoted fan will not be around to cheer his favorite lineup.Nearly 13 months have passed since a reserved young athlete, from the small southeastern Arizona town of Douglas, died in faraway Baqubah, Iraq. There was something special about him: He was an American soldier doing his duty.
A NATURAL BALL PLAYER
“He batted .400 all the time,” Jonathon said of his late brother, Isaac Campoy. Jonathon and his father, Victor Manuel Campoy, in a recent telephone interview described how posters of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, two of Isaac’s favorite players, always adorned the walls of his room. Isaac had baseball in his blood, his father said. “He played baseball from when he was a Little Leaguer,” he said proudly. “He was an All-Star eight years running.”Jonathon and his dad said Isaac followed the Arizona Diamondbacks closely. Once, his high school baseball coach, Jaime Tadeo, took Isaac and other students to Phoenix to watch the D-Backs play. “We were all in heaven. That stadium is like Disneyland,” Jaime Tadeo recalled of that visit Bank One Ballpark. Tadeo, a social studies teacher at Douglas High School, counted Isaac among his students as well as part of the school’s baseball team, the Bulldogs. Tadeo was the coach. and had enjoyed watching Isaac grow up playing baseball. When Isaac was a freshman, he was a starter. However, by the time he was a sophomore, an arm injury would make him more of a support player. The injury would keep the outfielder from starter status, although the team would go to state quarterfinals in 1999, and to semifinals in 2000. The Bulldogs would win state championship in 2001, but Isaac had already made the decision to leave the team and join the Army.“He was not a quitter in my eyes,” Tadeo said. “He was quiet, competitive and very tough --school tough. He had to choose between being a support player and getting on with his life.“I was very disheartened when he died.”In his younger days, Isaac was versatile as an athlete. “He played every position except catcher,” his dad said, adding that Isaac even played baseball while he was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. Playing baseball in the Arizona heat requires incredible stamina, and the young man’s athletic training would travel with him to Iraq, where he would continue to jog in Iraq’s desert to stay in shape.Beyond his athletic abilities, Isaac’s brother described him as a quiet young man whose goal was to join the Army, then work for the U.S. Border Patrol when his time in the service was up. “He liked the idea of being a cop,” Jonathon said.And though the handsome teenager won a Valentine’s Day trophy at age 15, he dated only occasionally, not seriously.
CASUALTIES OF WAR
It happened in the first weeks of the invasion of Iraq. According to Associated Press News, Army Spec. Isaac Campoy was killed Oct. 28, 2003 when a tank in which he was riding was hit by an explosive device in Baqubah, which is about 45 miles northeast of Baghdad.Campoy, 21, died when the bomb exploded beneath his tank, killing him as the vehicle careened down a 30-foot embankment. Staff Sgt. Michael P. Barrera also was killed; Spec. Lance Gieselmann was the sole survivor. They were part of 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 4th Infantry Division, out of Fort Hood, TexasCampoy and Barrera were causalities No. 7 and No. 8 in the U.S. military invasion of Iraq. He was the second of Victor and Nellie Campoy’s three sons.Terry Quinn, the family assistance coordinator assigned to the Campoys at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, said the family has had a tough time accepting the young soldier’s death. Quinn remembers Isaac as being rather reserved when she met him. “He was a very quiet boy,” she said. “He had a book under his arm, a Chicken Soup book. I thought, what an unusual book for this boy to have.” The Chicken Soup series of books are full of inspirational stories. There is even a Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul.
DEALING WITH DEATH
Coping with grief sometimes is more difficult when a family must work with a military organization to tie up the everyday affairs of a loved one. A family assistance coordinator is the contact, and sometimes the target of a family’s sadness and frustration.“They don’t want to deal with us,” said Quinn, who has been working trying to help the Campoys move forward. “Even closing a checking account is painful, one more acknowledgement
of the end.”“Mrs. Campoy is real angry and doesn’t want to deal with it,” she said. “It’s like they keep hoping for a miracle or something. But Isaac was very proud of what he did.”The shock takes a long time to sink in, said Hilda Guardiola, of Van Ormy, Texas. She is the mother of Sgt. Michael “Mikey” P. Barrera, the second soldier killed in the tank that day with Campoy. Barrera is survived by his father, Gabriel, and sister Selena, 23.“It seems like yesterday,” she said. “I get to some point where I’ve accepted his death. Then there are days when I’m still waiting for him to come home.” She sometimes suffers flashbacks of the day she learned that Mikey had been killed. Gabriel, “had it really rough at first, and I was the stronger one of the two at the beginning,” Mrs. Guardiola said. “Now, he’s the one who is there for me.” She added that Mikey was a happy person, always joking. “His smile was the biggest.”Campoy’s brother Jonathon likewise describes his family’s struggle with grief as a seesaw experience.
“Some days are good, some days are bad. The holidays are bad,” he said.“We got to meet Isaac in August, 2002, (just before) Mikey got sent to Germany,” Mrs. Guardiola said. It was Mikey’s birthday, and his family made the trip to Fort Hood to help him with a big barbecue for his buddies. Mikey’s house was known as “the party house,” she said. “Everybody hung out at his house, for barbecue, to play video games on the X Box, and watch movies. He was the life of the party, and he loved karaoke.”She recalls a young man from Douglas who came to the birthday barbecue, but wasn’t as loud as the rest of the guys. “We met Isaac. He was pretty quiet. I guess he had somewhere else to go.”In the days following the explosion, Mrs. Guardiola reached out to the Campoys at an online memorial page for Isaac. She’d noted Nellie Campoy had written about her son in Spanish at the Fallen Heroes online memorial page
http://www.fallenheroesmemorial.com/oif/profiles/campoyisaac.html.“Como Ustedes, yo se que Mikey y Isaac ahora son angelitos de Dios que estaran siempre con nosotros,” Mrs. Guardiola wrote in response, “Que Dios los bendiga a todos y les de las fuerzas ques nos a dado a nosotros para comprender estes tragedias y que siempre los tenga en sus brazos.” (“Like you, I know that Mikey and Isaac are now angels of God who will always be with us. God bless everyone and God has given us strength to understand these tragedies and He will always keep you in His arms.”)The families connected by phone soon after, to share their sadness. She realized that Mrs. Campoy did not speak English, and that her husband, Victor Manuel, spoke only a little.Mrs. Guardiola told the Campoys what she knew of the explosion, having been filled in by the first officer to arrive at the scene, Sgt. Sandro X. Navarro, and the surviving soldier, Spec. Gieselmann. The following July, the Guardiolas would visit Arizona.“We made a point to go to Douglas to visit Isaac’s family,” she said.
A LONG WAIT FOR RESCUE
“I remember the day like it was yesterday. He was listening to his CD player and was chillin’ on the front porch of the pump house shack. It was hot and he didn’t want to play football with us,” Gieselmann wrote on Campoy’s online memorial page.When the blast hit, the men were thrown out of the tank as it rolled down the steep embankment.
Spec. Gieselmann’s back would break upon impact; he would later lose a leg below the knee to amputation. Staff Sgt. Mike Barrera suffered massive internal injuries. Although the official military account is confidential, Mrs. Guardiola said she was told Isaac and Mike both died instantly or within minutes. Later, she learned that it was Campoy who was driving the tank, and probably died first of the three soldiers. And despite his serious injuries, Mike Barrera remained alert. He yelled out to Isaac, but there was no answer. He talked to Gieselmann for the next four hours, while they waited for help. Barrera even guided the medical chopper to their location for pickup, according to Guardiola. “Sgt. Navarro found them. He checked on Mikey, and he was talking. It looked like he was OK, but something happened between the med evac and the hospital, and he died,” Mrs.Guardiola said. She remembers later seeing only a bruise above her son’s eye when they viewed his body. Gieselmann wrote of Campoy. “He was very special – never had a gripe or complaint. And when we worked on the tank he always had a smile or a joke in his back pocket…I have cried many nights, trying to take back what had been done. Wishing I was dead so he could live. My heart goes out to his family and (I) know he is in heaven with Mike, watching over us every day. They are my heroes and the finest men I ever served with.”
MEMORIES AND MUSIC
The Guardiolas live on the outskirts of San Antonio, Texas. The cemetery where Mikey is buried is close to their home.“We can see his grave from the highway,” Mrs. Guardiola said. “There’s an oak tree planted by his grave. It has wind chimes.”A recently built grade school near their home is being dedicated Nov. 11 and will be called the Sgt. Michael P. Barrera Veterans Elementary School. That honor and an NBC Dateline television segment featuring Mike Barrera aired last Memorial Day. Both have helped the family feel proud despite their loss.Sometimes her daughter, Selena, tires of hearing her mother talk about Mikey. That doesn’t deter Mrs. Guardiola, who said she takes heart from something a friend told her.“She told me, a person really dies three times: Once, when you actually, physically die. You die the second time when they bury you. And the third time, when they stop talking about you.“We’re going to keep talking, anytime anyone wants to talk about Mikey.”Back in Douglas, the Campoy family is getting ready for another change and has included Isaac in their plans.“We’re moving to a bigger house,” Jonathan said. “We’ve brought down all Isaac’s stuff. We’re making a room for him, kind of a mini-museum.” Seven months before his death, Isaac’s father, Victor, had rechristened his rock band “The 4th Division” to honor his son Isaac. As the band’s lead guitarist, he plays “everywhere, a couple times a month.” His son used to like to hear the band play the classic ranchera El Rey and the Norteno tune One Day At A Time by Los Tigres del Norte.But Isaac’s favorite instrumental, Europa (Earth’s Cry, Heaven’s Smile), is a slow, pensive guitar piece. The notes in the Carlos Santana composition alternately soar and dive with emotional longing over its five-minute run. Once, when Isaac was stationed in Kentucky, his father played it for him on an acoustic guitar.When Victor Campoy plays it these days he remembers the serious young soldier and the quiet boy who loved to play baseball.
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