While Merced County honored veterans' sacrifices at Memorial Day ceremonies Monday, one local family was learning the cost of war firsthand.
Merced County resident Sgt. Frank J. Gasper, 25, was killed in Iraq on Sunday. Gasper died in Najaf when his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, according to the Department of Defense. Gasper was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, Fort Carson, Colo. Gasper, 25, graduated from Golden Valley High School in 2000.
Gasper was two weeks into his fourth tour in Iraq when he was killed, said his wife Breanna Gasper. Two other soldiers in the vehicle were injured; Gasper was killed instantly, she said. Gasper is the fourth Merced County servicemember to be killed in Iraq.
Breanna Gasper, 24, described her husband as a funny guy who loved telling animated stories of his time in Iraq, complete with sound effects and hand motions. He loved muscle cars, driving big trucks, four-wheeling and going to the shooting range, she said.
Frank Gasper's parents could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
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," said Breanna Gasper.
Breanna Gasper said her husband was committed to serving in Iraq, gladly returning 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."
Frank Gasper planned to attend Green Beret training, then work for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency after leaving the Army, said Breanna Gasper.
Frank Gasper's awards and commendations include three Army Commendation Medals, two Army Good Conduct Medals and a National Defense Service Medal.
Frank and Breanna Gasper both attended Golden Valley High School, graduating a year apart. They were married in 2002, two months after Gasper enlisted. Since then, the two have been inseparable, said Breanna, who called her husband her best friend and soulmate.
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," said Gasper. "He said, I love you Bunches and I'll talk to you later." Bunches was Frank's pet name for Breanna.
Sunday afternoon, Breanna Gasper saw two men in uniform from Frank's unit pull up outside her house near Fort Carson, Colo.
"I told myself please don't let them come to my door," she said.
When the doorbell rang, Gasper refused to let the soldiers in at first. Eventually they entered the house and delivered the news that Sgt. 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 Breanna Gasper learned of her husband's death, she watched a video he 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 at Stratford Evans Funeral Home.
Reporter Leslie Albrecht can be reached at (209) 385-2484 or email@example.com.