- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 24, 2007

TORRANCE, Calif. (AP) — Schoolmates yesterday remembered Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. as a gentle jock, hours after Army officials confirmed the 20-year-old’s body was found during an exhaustive search for him and two other soldiers ambushed in Iraq.

Friends at South High School observed a moment of silence and described him as a “pumped up” athlete who made them laugh and comforted them when they needed it.

“You’d be sad and sitting there by yourself, and he’d come up to you and just talk to you, and say, ‘Hey, how’s your day? Are you OK?’ ” childhood friend Erika Esquivel said.

Pfc. Anzack, who graduated two years ago, should be honored for “his service to America and for representing South High and Torrance so proudly and so well,” Principal Scott McDowell told students in a second-period classroom announcement.

Outside, the front steps became a makeshift shrine of flowers, flags and balloons, marked with a sign reading: “You’re our HERO.” The soldier’s Web page also was flooded with condolences.

Pfc. Anzack, an Army gunner, vanished with two other soldiers May 12 when their combat team was ambushed about 20 miles outside of Baghdad. The attack, subsequently claimed by al Qaeda, killed four other Americans and an Iraqi.

Pfc. Anzack’s family had held out hope for the past 11 days. They already had endured a rumor weeks earlier that he was dead, then said Army officials told them Wednesday that a body found floating in the Euphrates River was his. The military confirmed yesterday that Pfc. Anzack had been shot in the head, and his body dumped.

At South High, Pfc. Anzack played football and was on the wrestling and swim teams. He was “always pumped up and ready to try something new,” Miss Esquivel said.

Pfc. Anzack’s father told his hometown newspaper, the Daily Breeze, that family members had gathered in his home for a vigil led by an Army chaplain after hearing of the death.

“We said a prayer for the other two boys, then sat around and talked about Joseph,” Joseph Anzack Sr. said.

Relatives remained inside their home yesterday.

In Iraq, members of Pfc. Anzack’s platoon choked back tears at news of his death and said they would not stop looking for the other two missing soldiers.

“We can’t leave them behind. I just hope that they have enough faith to keep them going. What they’re going through right now, I can’t imagine,” said Pfc. Sammy Rhodes, 25, of Albuquerque, N.M.

Still missing are Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass.; and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.

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