Friday, April 20, 2007

A real-life hero: Mario Kawika DeLeon, Sgt., U.S. Army

Today's Comic Art Friday is dedicated to the memory of a hometown hero.

On Monday of this week, Mario Kawika DeLeon, a 26-year-old U.S. Army sergeant from Rohnert Park, California, lost his life to a sniper's bullet while on patrol in Baghdad. Kawika — Sgt. DeLeon was commonly called by his middle name, "David" in Hawaiian — was a member of the Army's 1st Infantry Division, known in military lore as "The Big Red One." He graduated from Casa Grande High School — archrival of my alma mater, Rancho Cotate High — and attended Santa Rosa Junior College, where my daughter KM will be a student in the fall.

I didn't know Kawika DeLeon personally, but my dear friend Donna e-mailed me to say that her parents and his were close friends, back in the day. Donna herself worked for a time with Kawika's mother, Barbara. Thus, aside from the fact that we probably rubbed elbows at Wal-Mart or Costco at some time or other, Sgt. DeLeon and I are separated by a mere two degrees.

To paraphrase John Donne, the bell tolls for me.

According to his obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle, Kawika was a fan of the Star Wars film franchise, the animated TV series ThunderCats, and X-Men comics. I don't have any ThunderCats art — a generation older than Kawika, I wasn't watching many cartoons in the '80s. Instead, I'll share from my art collection some images of my own favorite feline hero, the Black Panther, and my best-beloved among the X-Men, Storm, in Kawika's honor.

The quotes below are excerpted from the Chronicle's obit by Steve Rubenstein.

Mario DeLeon loved the old "Star Wars" movies, fast cars, hip-hop music, shooting pool and hanging out with his pals in Rohnert Park.

He loved his wife, Erika, and his 2-year-old son, Keoni.

And, in February, he told them he'd be home soon from his Army tour of duty in Iraq.
"He kept saying, 'Nothing's going to happen to me, nothing's going to happen to me,' Erika DeLeon said.

"He was fearless. In his mind, he was so strong and so brave. He was so sure of himself. He said he was coming back, and so we all knew he was coming back. That's how he was."
A tall, large man with what one friend described as a "goofy grin," DeLeon enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school and served for four years, including a tour in Afghanistan.

After attending college for a while, he served two years in the Air Force Reserve before rejoining the Army last year. He was sent to Iraq over the winter, and spent most of his time on patrol in Baghdad.
"He loved making everyone laugh," his wife said. "Nobody could make people laugh like Kawika. He lighted up everyone's day."

He drove a 15-year-old Nissan and he was pretty good at the motor sport technique known as "drifting," or driving sideways in a controlled slide. He and his friends enjoyed watching drifting competitions, reading car magazines, and talking about the best pro drivers and the latest tricks.
In the evenings, the DeLeons would hunker down on the sofa and watch a "Star Wars" movie — he had the complete set — or episodes of the old "ThunderCats" cartoon show, in which giant human cats battled the Mutants to save the innocents on a planet called Third Earth. In his 20s, DeLeon still enjoyed the animated shows and "X-Men" comic books he treasured as a kid.

"At first I didn't like watching those shows," his wife said. "But he was so passionate about it. He'd say, 'But Babe, everyone has to watch it.' So I did. And now I'm wearing the 'ThunderCats' sweater."
Above all, Erika DeLeon said, her husband was a gentleman.

"Sweet, polite, kind. I never met anyone like him. I wanted his son to grow up like him. Now all he has is pictures."

He is survived by his wife and son, by his mother, Barbara, and by his brothers, Gabe and Bruce. Funeral arrangements are pending.
Rest in peace, Kawika. Your sacrifice humbles us.

And that's your Comic Art Friday.

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4 insisted on sticking two cents in:

Anonymous Donna offered these pearls of wisdom...

Uncle Swan, you're the best. Thanks for an awesome tribute to Kawika. I know his Mom Barbara and my parents will be touched by your kind words. I am saddened to hear of Kawika's death. He, like many of our other fine enlisted men and women have done over the years, have given their lives so that others may experience the freedom that we as a nation do not always truly appreciate. Let us not forget Kawika, those who came before him, or those who so shall unfortunatlely follow him.

5:38 PM  
Anonymous Patricia Steiding offered these pearls of wisdom...

This was a nice tribute/write up on Sg. DeLeon. I was saddened when I first read on the internet of his death for even though I did not know him, his parents use to be my neighbors many, many moons ago and my heart goes out to his mother at this sad time. My heart also goes out to his wife and son.

6:22 PM  
Anonymous The Mutt offered these pearls of wisdom...

The very first comic I ever remember reading was tagged "Make War No More."

40 years later nothing has changed.

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous offered these pearls of wisdom...

Mario was an great friend, a great soldier, and a great man. Thank you for your tribute, and please keep his family in your thoughts and in your prayers. I've never had the pleasure of meeting someone who positvely affected so many people around him. Mario had an infectious smile and when he laughed, everyone laughed with him. Mario, I miss you, brother, and thank you for all the good times. I looked up to you in life, and I still look up to you now. I know you're looking down! - Rodney

11:02 PM  

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