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South Ogden • Sergio Arruda De Souza was in Brazil laying his mother to rest when he learned his son, U.S. Army Cpl. Raphael Arruda, had been killed in Afghanistan.
"They died within 10 days of each other," said Sergio Arruda, describing the loss as "a double kick to the stomach."
But on Saturday, Arruda put aside his grief to celebrate what would have been "Rapha's" 22nd birthday with family and friends, a barbecue, a rousing birthday chant in Portuguese and forró, a form of traditional country music popular in their hometown in northeastern Brazil.
"We are here to be happy, to commemorate life, his joy for life. We are here to love each other," Arruda told those who came to pay their respects. "Freedom is not free. It is generally paid for with blood and generally young blood. My son did what he believed and I am comforted by small acts of kindness from our community, this country, our family."
Raphael Arruda died of blunt force trauma on July 16, when the mine-protected vehicle he was in was struck by a roadside bomb in Kunar province. He was the third Utah serviceman killed in Afghanistan this month.
Platoonmates, their wives and family members say the soldier was a motivating force who saw a silver lining in the worst of conditions.
"He was the life of the party, the guy who pushed everyone and made everyone laugh," said Rick Maxfield, of West Point, the father of a soldier in Arruda's 744th Engineering Company of the U.S. Army Reserves. "They're having a hard time staying motivated back there."
Arruda deployed from Ogden last fall and was due back home this fall. His job was to clear Afghan roads of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and he was the lead driver on the night he was killed.
"He was the replacement driver for my son [23-year-old Greg Miller] who was injured last March," said Amy Miller, of South Ogden. "That could easily have been us getting the knock on the door."
Cpl. Rome Essex, 41, said he was "with five other guys on R&R" when he learned Arruda, whom he called his "best friend," had been killed. He flew to Bagram Airbase to escort Arruda's body back to Jalalabad for a full military dress ceremony.
"He did probably over 100 missions and suffered two concussions and never shied from driving the lead truck. He was scared but did it because he was asked to. He was proud to be in Afghanistan," said Essex.
Arruda was raised in Brazil and emigrated to the United States at age 12. Family say he joined the Reserves out of high school, likely inspired by his older brother's service in the Brazilian army.
His younger brother, Andrey Arruda, said he and his brother had planned to find an apartment this fall and finish college.
Raphael Arruda loved soccer, dancing and playing guitar, and he seemed to see humorous connections that others missed.
"We used to climb this tall tree in our backyard to see who could get highest, and I remember him falling one day 20 or 30 feet and just laughing," said Andrey Arruda. "He was the fun one. If it were up to me, I'd probably prefer a quiet moment to reflect. But this today was more for him than for us."
U.S. Army Cpl. Raphael Arruda died July 16, when the mine-protected vehicle he was in was struck by a roadside bomb in Bar Kunar district of Kunar province. He was the third Utah serviceman killed in Afghanistan this month.
Age • 21
Unit • U.S. Army Reserves 744th EngineeringCompany, 2nd Platoon
Early life • Raised in Brazil and immigrated at age 12 with his family to the United States, where he lived in Rhode Island, South Salt Lake and South Ogden.
Education • Trained as a combat engineer in the Army Reserves; 2008 graduate of Bonneville High School.