FORWARD OPERATING BASE DUKE, Iraq -- This is the fourth in a series of seven articles paying homage to the Marines of the 11th MEU who bravely fought and lost their lives during fighting in An Najaf, Iraq, this August.
They jokingly called themselves brothers separated at birth. Corporals Robert Abad, and Jose M. Cueva, both squad leaders with 81mm Mortar Platoon, Battalion Landing Team 1st Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable), were inseparable ever since they attended the School of Infantry together at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in January, 2001.
Abad died while fighting in the Wadi Al Salam cemetery during combat operations in An Najaf, Iraq, on Aug. 6.
The two met while standing the first night of fire watch for their class at the School of Infantry nearly four years ago. While all the other Marines went out for their first weekend of liberty they were picked to stand the graveyard shift from 12 to 6 a.m.
"We started just with the usual small talk like 'where're you from?' Stuff like that," Cueva recollected. "That's how we hit it off."
From that moment on they were joined at the hip, even when they went back to the hometown they turned out to share. They happened to live fifteen minutes away from each other in Los Angeles and never knew one another before the Marine Corps.
"From there on, if I didn't have a ride he would take me home to L.A.," Cueva said. "We always did things together."
The two even became close enough to bring each other into their families. They were just good friends that were "close that way," Cueva said.
Years later, Cueva was the first person Abad spoke to when he found out he was going to be a father. His fiancée, who is being taken care of by his family now, broke the happy news to him while the MEU was aboard ship.
"He was nervous and excited at the same time," Cueva said.
After they left school, they came to the same unit and stayed there together through the years. Through thick and thin -- this was their third deployment together.
"We drank a few beers and went to the clubs," Cueva said nostalgically. "He'd even bring his girlfriend and I'd bring mine when we went to movies together."
They weren't only close in their off time. The two also pushed each other to make themselves better Marines.
"We would always work together to look good in uniform, and PT together," Cueva said. "We would take care of each other."
They were battle hardened and ever ready for any action required of them.
"I wish (Abad) was still with us," Cueva said when he returned from the drill. "We miss him."
Cueva flashed some hand signal to another Marine in the tent and bellowed "Game over! You're done!" The two laughed softly, remembering one of the phrases Abad was known for.
"He would always say that," Cueva said. "He even gave me the nickname 'two cent,' because he said I always have to put my two cents in a conversation."
The other Marine across the tent laughed and continued the reminiscence.
"He had his own sense humor. He wouldn't laugh at our jokes, just his own special kind," said Sgt. Blake J. Lemoine, fire direction chief, 81mm Plt., about Abad.
Another Marine, directing his attention away from a movie many Marines were watching, added to the thoughts of Abad.
"He would always be listening to Spanish music in his headphones and singing," said Cpl. Chad B. Estle, squad leader, 81mm Plt. "He was a horrible singer."
Several of the Marines laughed and then they all turned back to their movie.
"One time, we were on a (tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel) mission during workups on our first float before (Operation Iraqi Freedom). We were both (private first classes) at the time," Cueva laughed.
Abad was the M-249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner then and Cueva was the assistant.
"Our squad leader told us to post security to the right and he told us to stay there until he told us to move," he said. "We thought he had forgotten us and that everybody left without us."
They were picked up a few minutes later, but he laughed again as he talked about the thought of Abad and him being stuck out in Barstow, Calif. Cueva turned serious again when he thought of Abad's family.
"I talked to his dad right after he passed away. He was proud that he died while serving his country," Cueva said, pleased that Abad's father was taking his death well.
The platoon is far from forgetting Abad. They remember him with everything from T-shirts that have a design he drew and tattoos they plan to get that mention him. Cueva has one he plans to get that says: "Best friend and brother. May God be with you. R.I.P. Corporal Abad."
They do miss him. Cueva thinks they'll be together again someday.
"I find myself talking to him saying 'I wish you were here to see this' whenever something funny happens," Cueva said. "I think he hears me. My dad says 'even though he's gone, warriors watch over warriors.' If he can hear me I'd say 'we all miss you and we'll meet up again soon.'"