A hero remembers: Montrose native earns Silver Star
We know the brave men and women who fight and die for our freedom are heroes.
There are also those like Sgt. Eubaldo Lovato who go above and beyond the call of duty.
Saturday night, the Montrose native received a Silver Star - the third-highest personal decoration for valor in combat. He says he doesn't deserve it, he was simply doing his duty for a fellow marine.
It was on Nov. 15, 2004, during The Second Battle of Fallujah, that Sgt. Lovato was trying to retrieve the remains of a fallen comrade.
"There was so much smoke we couldn't see anything," Sgt. Lovato recalls.
It was a situation that, four years earlier, this Montrose native could never have imagined. His original plan was college, but that changed in 2000 when he went to a recruitment office.
His father was pretty excited as he had fought in Vietnam.
"My mother was like why are you joining the military?" Lovato said.
But this was peacetime. He thought "I was going to get my 4 years and get some college tuition"
But during a break from boot camp came the terror attacks of September 11th, 2001.
"As a 19-year-old, you don't know how to prepare yourself," Sgt. Lovato said.
Lovato was sent overseas once and returned. But as the fight to complete Operation Iraqi Freedom wore on, Sgt. Lovato was sent for a second tour of duty in early 2004.
That's when he met Lance Corporal Travis Desiato.
"He barely got married before coming to Iraq," Sgt. Lovato remembered. "Talked about his wife and couldn't wait to start a family."
Acquaintances at first, Lovato got to know Desiato after becoming a squad leader.
Sgt. Lovato said, "He talked about finding religion. We all talked about how you find it in a situation like that."
Their faith and military training were put to the ultimate test when their squad was ordered to clear the Al-Qaeda stronghold of Fallujah.
"It was the main focal point of where the freedom fighters and jihadists were," Sgt. Lovato said. "I was scared. But the moment you're not that's when bad things happen."
The Allied Forces were more than three-quarters of the way into the city on November 15, 2004. Lovato's squad was clearing out a home. The first two rooms, good.
But when Desiato turned the corner for the third room Sgt. Lovato said he was met with five individuals dug in with sandbags.
"He was hit with AK-47 bullets." Sgt. Lovato said.
Desiato was dead. But Lovato knew he had to get his body back... "no if, and, or buts about it."
But they needed more help.
Lovato called for a tank and left to get more grenades.
"There was a roadway and alley so while I was running a bullet went thru my pocket and my sling," Sgt. Lovato said.
Enemy snipers had spotted him.
"Missed my leg by inches and right here hit my sling. It's crazy you can feel the concussion of the bullet go right past your body."
But Sgt. Lovato still had one thought.
"I had to get (Desiato's body). He had a death note for his wife and I knew I needed to get that and his wedding ring," he said.
He kept going. He found his Marines and three hours after it began, Lovato and four of his fellow marines ended it.
Base funerals were planned for the more than 100 allied soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
"Met (Desiato's family) at the gate, told them about Travis.That he was a hero. I had a lot of guilt."
In 2006, Sgt. Lovato was awarded a Bronze Star with Valor for his efforts that day. "I had an appreciation for it but a lot of resentment for it," Sgt. Lovato recalled.
A shell shock of combat that wouldn't begin to leave until his wife later ordered that he get help. But 13 years later, the pain and regret can still hit like a bomb.
Three months ago, After Sgt. Lovato added his daughter to his military benefits, he got an unexpected call. Turns out after a military review, his Bronze Star was approved to be upgraded to a Silver Star, the military's third-highest combat honor.
"I realized I need to be happy for it and carry on the life of Desiato," Sgt. Lovato said.
While the scars remain, time heals all wounds. And the memories of a friend and battle mate will always be close to this hero.
"I give full thanks to Travis. This is his award his ceremony. He can't be here but he is here and I'm going to carry this for him."
Sgt. Lovato now owns and runs Da-sh Nutrition in Westminster, where he uses some of his military training to teach people how to get in a shape.
He said he has kept in touch with Desiato's sister, and each year on Nov. 15th he posts Desiato's picture on Facebook as part of his vow to never forget.