Since childhood, Bryan Juan-Carlos Baltierra had set his sights on a military career and enlisted a month after graduating from high school.
On Wednesday, July 29, the 18-year-old private first class marked his one-year anniversary of being sworn into the United States Marine Corps.
A day later, he was one of nine service members killed when an amphibious assault vehicle (AAV) sank off the coast of San Clemente Island during a routine training exercise, considered one of the deadliest sea incidents for the Marines in recent years.
“He has always dreamed of joining the military since he was a little boy,” his mother Evelyn Baltierra said in an email to the Asian Journal. “He was able to achieve his dream and become a proud Marine for our country.”
The Filipino-Mexican teen from Corona, California graduated from Centennial High School last year and joined the Marines at the age of 17.
He was a rifleman with Bravo Company, Battalion Landing Team (BLT) 1/4 of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) at the time of his death.
Baltierra earned several awards, including the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and Armed Forces Service Medal, according to the I Marine Expeditionary Force.
His family last saw him on July 12 when they drove him back to Camp Pendleton — where Baltierra was stationed as part of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit — after spending the weekend together, his mother said. He regularly kept in touch through the family group chat or by documenting on Snapchat, she added.
Around 5:45 p.m. on July 30, 15 Marines and one sailor were inside the AAV when it “rapidly sank” with all of them on board, according to a report by the Marine Corps Times.
Eight Marines were rescued, though one died and two were transported to Scripps Memorial Hospital under critical condition, a release from the Marine Corps said. One of the hospitalized members was upgraded to stable condition, the 15th MEU said in a Twitter post.
The body of Lance Cpl. Guillermo S. Perez, a 20-year-old from New Braunfels, Texas, was recovered. After a 40-hour search that ended on Sunday, the other eight, including Baltierra, were presumed dead, the unit said in another release.
— I MEF (@1stMEF) August 3, 2020
“Our family received the pronouncement of his death during an in-home visit by military personnel on Saturday, August 1st at 12 p.m.,” Baltierra’s eldest sister Natalie wrote in a Facebook post.
The identities of the other missing service members are: Lance Cpl. Marco A. Barranco, 21, of Montebello, Calif., a rifleman; Pfc. Evan A. Bath, 19, of Oak Creek, Wis., a rifleman; U.S. Navy Hospitalman Christopher Gnem, 22, of Stockton, Calif., a hospital corpsman; Pfc. Jack Ryan Ostrovsky, 21, of Bend, Ore., a rifleman; Cpl. Wesley A. Rodd, 23, of Harris, Texas, a rifleman; Lance Cpl. Chase D. Sweetwood, 19, of Portland, Ore., a rifleman; Cpl. Cesar A. Villanueva, 21, of Riverside, Calif., a rifleman.
Baltierra — who would have celebrated his 19th birthday on September 18 — is survived by his parents Carlos and Evelyn, and sisters, Natalie, Emily and Sara.
“My dear Bryan, my one and only son, was a wonderful man who radiated positivity and expressed his wonderful smile to all he met. He cared very much for his family and friends,” Evelyn added in the email to the Asian Journal. “Whether it was paintballing, going to concerts, or dining at his favorite restaurants, he enjoyed doing all these activities with loved ones. Bryan truly enjoyed the company of others. There were always lots of smiles and laughs with whomever he was with.”
The Baltierras over the weekend held a drive-by memorial service outside of their home, inviting people to light a candle and share memories of the fallen Marine.
A GoFundMe campaign has been started to help the family cover funeral expenses. It has reached 50% of its goal with over $10,000 contributed, as of this writing.