Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr.
Military's search for Torrance soldier ends sadly for family
Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. is mourned at vigil in his father's home.
By Shelly Leachman
More than 10 days into a massive search for three missing American soldiers that has held the attention of a hopeful nation, the Torrance family of Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., 20, learned the worst Wednesday.
Late in the afternoon, Army representatives notified the infantryman’s father, Joseph Anzack Sr., that his son was the dead soldier found earlier in the Euphrates River.
He had been “visually identified by the commander of his unit,” Anzack Sr. told the Daily Breeze. “The mourning started right then.
Speaking by phone Wednesday night, Anzack Sr. said his immediate family and several extended family members held a vigil inside his apartment — a second-story stucco building with a yellow ribbon on the front door — that was led by an Army chaplain.
“We said a prayer for the other two boys, then sat around and talked about Joseph,” he said, “just sharing the love of my son and why we all loved him.”
“I’m not really sure where I’m going to go from here,” Anzack Sr. told the Breeze. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do tomorrow. But I have to keep living. I have to keep my family strong. “His sister, she can’t believe it. His mom, she’s doing OK,” he added. “We lost our son. It’s not fair.”
A former prep football standout who graduated from Torrance’s South High in 2005, Anzack Jr. was on his first tour of duty in Iraq, where he served as a gunner with the Army’s noted 10th Mountain Division. He and two fellow soldiers went missing after their patrol was ambushed south of Baghdad on May 12, leaving four soldiers and an Iraqi aide dead.
Al-Qaida later claimed credit for the attack and the abductions of Anzack Jr., Spc. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., and Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.
Their families and America watched as military forces launched an intensive, exhaustive search involving thousands of troops that spanned desert, farmland and irrigation ditches. News broke early Wednesday that a body in an American uniform had been pulled from the Euphrates River.
When word surfaced that the body bore a tattoo, the Anzacks continued to hold out hope, Anzack Sr. said. Last time he saw his son, he had no tattoos.
“I was really thinking, ‘That’s a different person,’” he said. “Somebody said that God takes you away from the bad stuff. And evidently he took Joe. He didn’t want him going through any more bad stuff.”
The tragic news came exactly one month after a false rumor of Anzack Jr.’s death circulated so widely, via MySpace and word-of-mouth, that his alma mater South High changed its marquee to read: “In Loving Memory - Joseph Anzack - 2005.”
But after American Red Cross workers located him alive and well, the soldier himself dispelled the rumor with a phone call home, relieving family and friends across Torrance.
After the rumor turned out to be just careless gossip, word of Anzack’s real disappearance in mid-May brought the toll of the war in Iraq home to students at South High, according to athletic director Robert Kutsch.
“It’s really opened up a lot of kids’ eyes,” Kutsch said. “It’s somebody who walked the same hallways as them and is gone.”
Denise Mandel’s son, Mike, a 12th-grader this year, played middle linebacker with Anzack two years ago and told the Daily Breeze in April he was a “great mentor.”
After hearing the news Wednesday, Denise said the family was heartbroken.
“This young man had nothing but class,” Mandel said. “He was a wonderful leader on the field, just as he was in life.”
Chris Lee graduated two years ahead of Anzack and the two played together on South High’s varsity football team. Anzack, who played on the defensive line, made the team as a 10th-grader. His enthusiasm made an impression on Lee right away.
“He was so excited to get out there, he forgot his assignment,” Lee said.
Anzack Sr. said his son approached his military duty in much the same fashion, describing Joseph Jr. as “a man who made his own choices, stuck by his choices and gave 100 percent.”
“I was honored to have him serve this country,” he said. “I know he went over there and made a difference.”
“I’m so grateful to have had the relationship that I had with my son. It was an honor to be his father.”
His myspace page