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Soldier's injuries lead to heart failure

He had shown marked improvement from severe burns he suffered when his tank blew up in Iraq.

Published July 20, 2006

LAND O'LAKES - A Land O'Lakes soldier who was struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq in October died Sunday of heart failure caused by the stress of his injuries.

He was 27.

Army Spc. Raymond A. Salerno III's death came as a surprise to his family, who said his health had been steadily improving since he suffered third-degree burns on both hands, his left arm and leg when the Bradley tank he was in about 30 miles north of Baghdad hit a roadside bomb.

Salerno's health had improved enough that he could walk around and even travel.

About two months ago, he proposed to Nerea Guerrica of Tampa, the mother of their 7-month-old son, Nikolas.

"He was progressively getting better and better," said Salerno's mother, Robin Salerno. "When she said 'yes' to him he turned back to himself."

On the Fourth of July, he visited his family in Land O'Lakes and held his son.

Salerno graduated from Land O'Lakes High School in 1997, and worked his way up to night supervisor at Response Mail, a direct mail marketing company.

His mother said he joined the Army because he wanted to get a college education. Guerrica said he talked about going to the police academy and earning a pilot's license.

"Whatever he did he did well, and he did that for the military," said his father, Raymond Salerno Jr. "I'm so proud of him being a soldier."

After Salerno was injured, he was taken to Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston, Texas. His mother stayed for six weeks, nursing him back to health and changing his bandages, a process that sometimes took 10 hours.

As Salerno improved, he went back to his company at Fort Benning, Ga. Gradually, he took on duties such as answering the phone, his mother said.

"He was happy to get back to Fort Benning," Salerno Jr. said. "He had a lot of friends there; they were like his brothers."

Earlier this month, he went back to Brooke Army Medical Center for observation, where his heart failed and he died unexpectedly.

Inside their Land O'Lakes home, Salerno's family described him Wednesday as caring and kindhearted, and said he had a strong faith in God. He sent a birthday card this month to Guerrica. She received it before he died.

"I love you, and miss you. And I will see you soon. Until then I will see you in my dreams," he wrote.

Salerno is also survived by brothers Christopher and Joshua, and a sister, Camille.

A viewing will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. and from 6 to 8 p.m. Sunday at Loyless Funeral Home in Land O'Lakes. A service will be at 10 a.m. Monday at Loyless, followed by a burial at Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell.

Salerno, Jr. said his son's entire company plans to travel from Fort Benning for the service.

[Last modified July 20, 2006, 07:13:29]

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