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Touching messages recall young Marine

Friends and strangers leave notes on a Web site. A tribute Saturday will honor Andy Aviles, 18, who was killed in Iraq.

By SUSAN THURSTON, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

The notes speak of a warm, witty young man with big dreams and a wide circle of friends.

The kind of the person who makes a difference without knowing it or even trying.

Marine Lance Cpl. Andrew Aviles, a recent Robinson High School graduate, died April 7 while serving in Iraq. Enemy fire struck his vehicle, making him the third -- and youngest -- service member from Tampa to perish in the war.

He would have turned 19 next week.

In the days after his death, friends set up a Web site to post messages of thanks and condolences to his family, who live in the Gandy neighborhood. Comments poured in from near and far.

More than 250 as of Wednesday. And the list keeps growing.

There's one from a childhood friend who moved north but still kept in touch through letters and phone calls. There's one from a fellow JROTC recruit who remembers Aviles' pressed uniform, shined shoes and can-do attitude.

Others come from strangers who laud his sacrifice and mourn his family's loss.

Friends have organized a tribute to Aviles and those serving in the Middle East starting at 8:30 a.m. Saturday on the Tampa side of the Friendship Trail Bridge. People are asked to bring red, white, blue and yellow flowers to throw in the water at 9:30 a.m., the estimated time of his death.

Lauren Peterson, whose brother Kevin was Aviles' best friend, will pass out decals that say, "In Loving Memory of Andy Aviles."

Visitation will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Monday at St. Patrick's Catholic Church, 4522 S Manhattan Ave. Funeral services will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the church.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Andy Aviles Scholarship Fund c/o the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay, 4950 W Kennedy Blvd., Suite 250, Tampa, FL 33609. The fund will benefit a deserving Robinson student.

Those who knew him say he would have been honored.

Here are some excerpts of postings from

* * *

"I miss you already and it hurts so much to know you're gone. I wish I was signing a yearbook and not a page remembering you. You lived more life in almost 19 years than most will ever be able to in 100. Your sense of humor and your willingness to put others first made everyone want to be a better person."

-- Lindsey McGehee

* * *

"Andy kept everyone in a joyous mood just by being himself. He was the life of the party. It was a rare pleasure to have such a student touch my life and the lives of so many others."

-- Larry McDowell, teacher, Robinson High School

* * *

"I remember the day Andy came back from boot camp. He was so excited and that is all he talked about for the next week. We knew every detail as if we were there. I remember the way he made everyone laugh. I will always remember Andy as a man who died for our country."

-- Sophie Wells

* * *

"The night before he left to go across seas, he came to my house and was in the best of spirits. He told me he was worried but he had faith in his fellow Marines. As he left he smiled and said 'Don't worry, I promise I'll be back soon.' "

-- Misty Abshear

* * *

"You were doing something great when you left this world and you have led the way for others to follow in your courageous footsteps. Some people say you never knew what you had until it was gone. Andy, I knew you were special the day I met you and you impacted my life and my family's life so much in the little time you were here."

-- Lauren Peterson

* * *

"I, like several others, feel like I've missed out on something truly wonderful by not knowing him. I only hope that he is in a better place and that he can look down on us and see just how much he impacted our lives, and how much he meant to so many people."

-- Ciara Walker

* * *

"He was always there to make someone laugh and was definitely one to put a smile on my face. It is just devastating that someone as great as Andy can be taken from us at such a young age. I have so much respect for him for what he did for our country and he will never be forgotten. Thank you Andy."

-- Nick Cruz

* * *

"He will always be remembered in my mind as the character who always had something funny or witty to say. He made life so much easier when things were going bad. I loved him for that, and he will always and forever be in my heart."

-- Brittaney Goins

* * *

"As Student Government President, he brought our organization to a whole new level. A level that was never before reached or surpassed. His superiority, wisdom and strength gave us the ability to believe that we could succeed against any obstacles that come our way."

-- Minh Dang

* * *

"When I think of Andy, the first word that comes to mind is blessing, because that is what he was. He inspired me to be true to myself and what I want to accomplish. Andy made me feel welcome and he definitely made me smile."

-- Carly Wilson

* * *

A hero gone
unknown was his duty until it was done
he fought for me
he died for my rights and yours the same
he loved the world so purely
his task has been completed
his sacrifice has brought us hope
hope that freedom for all mankind is on its way
hope that there is God here on earth
hope that all our heroes have not died in vain
he shows us the beauty and perfection
of the human heart
he died so I could have my American dream
he died so that the whole world would have the right to dream
May God be with those who love him now, and may God stand next to him forever
I will never forget your sacrifice, Andy

Thank you

-- Cindy Haley

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