People driving or walking along Chatsworth Drive sometimes slow down or even stop to get a better look at the conspicuously placed banner affixed to the front of the San Fernando home. "Fallen Hero" reads the banner with the photo and the name, Jair De Jesus Garcia, who his family shares, was 29-years- old when he lost his life in Afghanistan on Aug. 1, 2008.
The banner has moved some people so much that they've knocked on the front door to offer their condolences.
His aunt and grandmother who live there, members of the Rodriguez family who put the banner up shortly after his death, have never taken it down. For them, it honors their much loved family member who left this world too soon.
Garcia, a San Fernando Valley native, attended Birmingham High School and was an avid football and soccer player. He also worked as an assistant coach at Robert Fulton College Preparatory School in Van Nuys.
His aunt Maricela Rodriguez described him as a “clown” because of his playfulness, especially with his grandmother. She also said Garcia was a man with a great heart.
Garcia didn’t enter the military immediately after high school. He held several jobs, had a son — Noah, now 20, who is “exactly like him,” his aunt says — and got married before deciding to join the US Armed Forces in 2007.
In June 2008, Garcia visited his aunt and grandmother, Andrea Rodriguez, a week prior to leaving for Afghanistan. Many family members gathered at a park and held a barbecue, where he said goodbye to everyone.
Then he left, “and never came back,” Rodriguez said.
While deployed in the Middle East, Garcia wrote to his family almost daily and sent them pictures that his aunt printed to show to his grandmother, with whom Garcia had a special bond.
On Aug. 1, less than two months after arriving in Afghanistan, Garcia called everyone.
“That morning, they needed people for a special mission and he was the first one to volunteer,” Rodriguez said. “He was in a Humvee with other service members, and they all died after [driving] over a roadside bomb.”
Garcia’s death occurred in the Chowkay Valley area of northeastern Afghanistan’s Kunar Province. Also killed were Lt. Michael R. Girdano, Spec. William J. Muvihill and Pfc. David J. Badie.
The banner with the photo of her nephew was placed on the front of Rodriguez’ home soon after.
Now, every Memorial Day, Rodriguez also changes the photo on her Facebook account for that of her nephew.
But “we remember everybody who served and is serving,” she added.
Memorial Day was first known as Decoration Day, with its origins in the years following the Civil War when many towns held special tributes and people decorated graves of fallen soldiers on both sides of the conflict.
Memorial Day became a federal holiday in 1971 to honor all those who have died while in service to the country.