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A hero who didn’t come home

Service: A father recalls fateful events that inspired local man into Army

Posted: September 11, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: September 11, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Brig. Gen. Gregg C. Potter, left, presents the folded flag from the casket of Spc. Rudy A. Acosta to the Acosta’s family at graveside services held at Eternal Valley Memorial Park on March 31.

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Many of the 9/11 heroes died the day terrorists attacked America.

Many others died in the days, and the years, that followed.

The Santa Clarita Valley has lost 11 sons in service to their country since the terrorist attacks 10 years ago. The most recent was Army Spc. Rudy A. Acosta, who died in Afghanistan this year.

The bravery he demonstrated in response to 9/11 was witnessed 3,476 days after the disastrous events of that historic day.

“Little did we know that our little 10-year-old asleep down the hall on Sept. 11 would be fighting in the same war 10 years later,” Rudy Acosta’s father, Dante, said Friday.

“It’s hard to fathom.”

Military service

Acosta, of Canyon Country, a combat medic who dreamed of becoming a doctor, died serving his country in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.

He and another soldier were shot March 19, allegedly by an individual from a military security group, according to a statement issued earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Defense.

After nine months of deployment to combat service in Afghanistan, Acosta was assigned to a station “behind the wire,” away from the direct combat zone, Dante Acosta said at the time of his son’s death.

At the end of that nine-month period, Acosta wrote to father saying: “Dad, please pray for my friends in the platoon.”

Acosta graduated from Santa Clarita Christian School in 2009, completed Army basic training that summer and was deployed to Afghanistan on June 10. He served as a health care specialist.

He had planned to enroll in medical school after he completed his service.

But while he served as a medic, he also served as an inspiration to all those around him, his father said.

9/11 message

The 19-year-old remains a hero today as the Santa Clarita Valley and the rest of the country moves passed the decade milestone of post-9/11 America.

“His buddies left behind tell us all the time, ‘Your son inspired me by the simple fact that he was so dedicated,’” Dante Acosta said Friday.

His son’s Facebook page swells daily with comments of love, respect and gratitude for his service, he added.

“I think it serves to inspire young people who don’t always have something to look up to,” he said.

The day terrorist planes hit the Twin Towers, Dante Acosta responded to the questions of his 10-year-old son, explaining the importance of duty and justice.

“That morning, we were getting dressed when someone called and said ‘Turn on the TV,’ and I said ‘What channel?’ and they said ‘any channel.’

“So, when Rudy asked later about it, I said: ‘There are evil people who want to stamp out freedom, and we have to confront them,’” Acosta said. “There will be a response.”

Rudy Acosta would grow to become part of that “response.”

Local hero

On the day Acosta was ceremoniously remembered here in the Santa Clarita Valley, U.S. military officials presented his family with the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for their son.

The Purple Heart is a U.S. military decoration awarded to members of the armed forces who have been wounded in action. The Bronze Star is awarded for heroism.

Hundreds of others turned out as well that day — not with medals, but with American flags and hand-drawn posters.

Acosta family members, traveling in limousines along Soledad Canyon Road that last day in March, were greeted by enthusiastic curbside strangers who turned out to show their respects, many with signs marked with the word “hero.”

Firefighters with the Los Angeles County Fire Department lined the bridge at Golden Valley Road as a motorcade led by about 30 sheriff’s deputies on motorcycles made its way down Soledad Canyon Road to Valencia Boulevard.

Clusters of supporters greeted the procession at several local intersections.

Orchard Village Parkway was adorned with American flags planted along its median as several young couples with small children waited with handheld flags on the shady west side of that street.

Sheriff’s Department motorcycles, cruisers and fire trucks leapfrogged along the route ahead of the procession to ensure traffic didn’t interfere with the motorcade.

Once the procession arrived at Eternal Valley Memorial Park, and after many words of love and respect for Acosta, the young man’s family sat quietly under the shade of a small pepper tree by his gravesite.

A military gun salute shattered the silence for a moment. Then all was silent.

Men in uniform arranged themselves around the casket. With precision, they ceremoniously folded the flag that draped it.

The folded flag was then presented to Acosta’s mother.

Dabbing her eyes, Carolyn Acosta accepted the flag.

Rudy Acosta would have turned 20 years old on May 2 this year — the same day 9/11 terrorist leader Osama bin Laden was killed.

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