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Brian Nicholson, Deseret News
Brandt Anderson and his wife Jessica arrive to mourn the loss of Lance Cpl. Norberto Mendez-Hernandez, 22, of Logan during a candlelight vigil in his honor in Logan Tuesday, July 12, 2011. Mendez-Hernandez died Sunday while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.

LOGAN — Lance Cpl. Norberto Mendez-Hernandez was living his dream, serving his country as a U.S. Marine.

"He always had a dream of being a Marine," said Victor Estrada, a longtime friend of Mendez-Hernandez, who died Sunday while conducting combat operations in Helmand province, Afghanistan.

"Out of all of us, his friends, he was the one who actually went out and lived his dream," Estrada said. "I'm really proud of him. He actually stood up for what he believed in."

Estrada was among Mendez-Hernandez's friends and family who gathered to honor his memory Tuesday evening outside the Riverwalk Apartments, where his parents live.

Mendez-Hernandez, 22, of Logan, was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, Camp Pendleton, Calif. He leaves behind a wife, Lorena, a 2-year-old son, Anthony, and 7-month-old daughter, Audrey.

This was his first combat deployment since enlisting April 26, 2010.

"Ever since he was a little kid he talked about joining the Marines," said cousin Jesus Mendez.

The two talked on the phone before Mendez-Hernandez deployed: "The conversation that nobody wants to have. He wanted me to promise him that if anything like this ever happened, that I would help his wife out with his kids … help the kids to grow up and be nice people, good people."

Mendez said he is still processing the loss of his cousin and thinking about how he can keep that promise.

Several friends described Mendez-Hernandez as a dedicated family man.

"He loved his kids. He loved his wife," said Carlos Rosales, a lifetime friend. "He was really brave. Once he set his mind on doing something, he never stopped until it got done, regardless of the situation or how dangerous it is."

Staff Sgt. Denver Sugano, Mendez-Hernandez's recruiter in Logan, said Mendez-Hernandez was a hard worker and always did what he was told. Mendez-Hernandez is the first of Sugano's recruits to be killed while in a combat area.

"He was close to the guys that I put in," Sugano said. "They all know about his death already. They're torn up right now."

Mendez-Hernandez's personal service awards include the Purple Heart and Combat Action Ribbon.

His death is the second in one week of a service member from Utah.

On July 5, Army Spc. Preston J. Suter, 22, from Sandy, was killed in Afghanistan when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, according to the Defense Department.

Suter had been serving as a military policeman in Afghanistan since April, his mother Patricia Middleton said.

Contributing: Jared Page

e-mail: sfidel@desnews.com;

Twitter: SteveFidel