'You're not prepared for it': Close friends mourn Aurora soldier
Aurora is mourning the loss of U.S. Army Pfc. Miguel Villalon, the 21-year-old former East Aurora High School student killed Saturday by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, but the void is being felt particularly among three of his closest friends.
Together they formed a "squad," said one of those friends, Marlo Guzon, who exchanged social media messages with Villalon as recently as Friday.
"The last message I sent was please come home in one piece and be careful because I'm watching the news," Guzon said, adding that Villalon assured him he was doing fine.
The Pentagon confirmed Sunday that Villalon and a second soldier died Saturday after their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in the southern province of Kandahar. They were assigned to the 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division based in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, according to the defense department.
Guzon called Villalon a steadying influence within their tight circle.
"He was always one of those people that I could talk to about anything. We talked about literally everything, from (the) Marvel Cinematic Universe to music," said Guzon, the only one of the friends who didn't attend East Aurora High School (he went to West Aurora).
"The first day I met him I made him take the Harry Potter Pottermore Quiz. And he got Gryffindor," Guzon said. That was significant, he added, because "those who get into Gryffindor are very chivalrous, courageous."
But Villalon could also loosen up, as when he surprised his friends by singing karaoke.
"That boy could sing like Axl Rose," Guzon said. "We didn't even know he could sing like that."
Another member of the group, Rodrigo Hull, said Villalon always made time for others. Within the group, he was the peacemaker.
"Thanks to him making the ultimate sacrifice, people like us can have freedom," Hull said.
In messages to his friends, Villalon described his life in the military, the hot weather where he was stationed, and asked them to send fruit snacks.
He also discussed his future ambitions.
"He was very well-rounded. He knew things about cars, he knew things about electricity. He wanted to build homes," Hull said.
Friend Gerardo Franco recalled gathering with Villalon, Hull and Guzon the day before Villalon was supposed to ship out. The occasion was festive, with visits to Navy Pier and Chinatown and the BomboBar, an ice cream venue in the West Loop.
"I didn't expect it to be the last time I would see him," he said, describing his friend as someone who tried to keep things positive and in good spirits.
"When everybody was maybe yelling and stuff, he tried to get everybody laughing," Franco added.
Franco said he has a cousin in the military and understands that death can happen.
"Sometimes we overlook it. All we do is hope it doesn't. When it does, you're not prepared for it," he said.