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Soldier remembered as true fighter
Army Sgt. Rocky Herrera was killed serving as a soldier, but he was laid to rest Wednesday as a boxer.
Boxing coach Leo Montoya said ever since Herrera started punching around at age 8, he knew the kid was special. He was sharp. He was well-behaved. And he never had a hair out of place.
Herrera went on to fight in several states and earned his nickname "The Rock."
"He used to hit like a rock," said Montoya, who's coached for more than 50 years. "He used to have a beautiful stand and beautiful jab."
Montoya was among about 350 people who attended a memorial service for Herrera on Wednesday at St. Ann Catholic Church.
Herrera and two other U.S. soldiers were killed Aug. 28 by a suicide bomber while they were building a bridge in Afghanistan. The Salt Lake City native was 43. Herrera, a father of four grown children, was stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash., and departed for his Afghanistan tour in May.
Tony Thompson said he had known Herrera since kindergarten at Parkview Elementary School on Salt Lake City's west side and the two eventually graduated from West High School in 1982. He remembers when they used to cruise downtown and hang out at the corner of 200 South and State Street.
Thompson said he used to be picked on by bullies at school and Herrera taught him ''how to stick up for myself."
"He always watched out for me," he said.
Thompson, who lives in Washington, said he was worried when Herrera told him about leaving for Afghanistan, but his childhood friend tried to calm his fears.
"I'm a little angry, but I'm proud of him," he said of Herrera's death.
Duane Padilla said that during the morning rosary at the church, he read a page-long poem, ''One Day, One Incredible Life,'' that he wrote for his ''cuz.''
''We are sad because 'The Rock' is no longer around. Yet, he would not want anyone to wear a frown,'' Padilla wrote. ''Let's remember him for what he was to all. A gift from God, through his example, stood so tall.''
At the end of the Mass, a bell was rung 10 times. The Rev. John Wester, bishop of Salt Lake City's Catholic Diocese, told the congregation that the rings symbolized Herrera's ''new round . . . that leads to his final victory.'' In boxing, a boxer scores a knockout if the opponent is knocked down and can't get up before a referee counts to ten.
Montoya said that to him, the rings meant that Herrera's good fight on Earth is over. He planned to give Herrera's mother, Elaine, a trophy that reads: ''10 Bells for The Rock.''
Master Sgt. Jeff Garcia grew up about four houses from the Herrera family on 900 South, the street that relatives now hope is named after Herrera. Garcia said Herrera was a true friend and family man. Garcia said he won't forget that Herrera attended his Mormon baptism service while the two were stationed in Germany several years ago.
The last time Garcia heard from Herrera was in an e-mail earlier this year telling him that Herrera was now a grandpa.
"We just pick up where we left off," Garcia said.
Herrera left behind his wife, Traci; daughter, Clarissa, 16; stepdaughter, Tristan, 20 - all living in Fort Lewis. Herrera's sons Matt, 22, and Mark, 20, and granddaughter, Kylie, live in Salt Lake City.
For Jeri Herrera, Rocky Herrera's sister, saying goodbye to her older brother at the Mount Calvary Catholic Cemetery on Wednesday was like losing her "third parent."
Herrera will be buried next to his father, Henry Herrera, who died in January. Jeri Herrera, who lives in Chicago, said the last time she saw her brother was at their father's funeral, where Herrera presented their mother with a U.S. flag. Even then, she said Herrera was trying to make everyone laugh.
"Nothing ever got him down."