May 28, 2008

Merced soldier killed in Iraq

MERCED -- While Merced County honored veterans' sacrifices at Memorial Day ceremonies Monday, one local family was learning the cost of war firsthand.

Army Sgt. Frank J. Gasper, 25, of Merced County was killed in Iraq on Sunday. He died in Najaf after his vehicle hit a roadside bomb, according to the Department of Defense. Gasper was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group in Fort Carson, Colo.

Gasper was two weeks into his fourth tour in Iraq when he was killed, his wife, Breanna Gasper, said. Two soldiers in the vehicle were injured; Gasper was killed instantly, she said.

Gasper is the 24th soldier or Marine from the Northern San Joaquin Valley or foothills to be killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Gasper, 24, described her husband as a funny guy who loved telling stories of his time in Iraq, complete with sound effects and gestures. He loved muscle cars, driving big trucks, four-wheeling and going to the shooting range, she said.

Frank Gasper, born on Veterans Day, joined the Army in 2002, in part because his uncles and cousins had served in the military.

"He just felt it was something he had to do," Breanna Gasper said.

Her husband was committed to serving in Iraq, according to his wife, returning gladly for multiple deployments.

"He would have it no other way," she said. "He felt like if he was over there, he was actually helping someone. If anyone told him he couldn't go, he would fight to go over there."

Gasper planned to attend Green Berets training, then work for the Drug Enforcement Agency after leaving the Army, his wife said.

Gasper's awards include three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals and a National Defense Service Medal.

The Gaspers attended Golden Valley High School in Merced and graduated a year apart. They were married in 2002, two months after Gasper enlisted.

Breanna Gasper said she last spoke to her husband Friday.

"He told me that he loved me, I told him that I was proud of him," she said. "He said, 'I love you, Bunches, and I'll talk to you later.' " Bunches was his pet name for his wife.

Sunday afternoon, Breanna Gasper saw two men in uniform from her husband's unit pull up outside her house near Fort Carson.

"I told myself please don't let them come to my door," she said.

When the doorbell rang, Gasper at first refused to let the soldiers in. Eventually, they entered the house and delivered the news that Gasper had been killed earlier that day.

Gasper is survived by his mother and stepfather, Joel and Anita Richards of Planada, and a sister, Victoria Gasper, according to an Army statement.

After Gasper learned of her husband's death, she watched a video he had made for family and friends to watch in the event of his death. The video shows photos of Gasper set to the song "My Infinite Love" by George Strait.

Gasper said her husband chose the song as a message to his loved ones.

"Basically, the lyrics are whenever you see a shooting star, it's me," said Breanna Gasper. "And if you get a feeling you can't explain, I want you to know it's me watching over you."

A memorial service is scheduled for next week.

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