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Manatee marine remembered as peacemaker, warrior

BRADENTON — Ezequiel Freire’s mother wanted him to be a Mormon missionary.

The youngest of Mabel and Jorge Freire’s four children was, in the family’s words, the most spiritual, a peacekeeper, a man of the Lord.

“Mom prepared him to go on a mission for two years,” said Mr. Freire’s oldest sister, Carina Piovera, 38, on Thursday. “That’s what she expected of him. We all thought he would go on a mission.”

Mr. Freire did go on a two-year mission — as a U.S. Marine, including a combat tour in Afghanistan last year.

“I was very proud of him and supported his decision, though my fear was always that knock on the door,” said sister Julie Freire, 21. “He was committed to everything he put his heart into.”

A heart that stopped beating much too young.

The 2008 Manatee High School graduate became ill after returning to the U.S. in November. Subsequent tests revealed a cancerous tumor near his heart.

Hospitalized Jan. 28 at the Virginia Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth, Va., Mr. Freire underwent two procedures, but died in the hospital Feb. 13.

He was 20.

After a funeral service Friday at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mr. Freire was interred during a solemn, full-honors military funeral at Sarasota National Cemetery.

One of the many Marines present in dress blues was Mr. Freire’s older brother, who served a combat tour in Iraq last year and is stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif.

A lance corporal like his younger brother, Federico Freire spoke about how his sibling was a peacemaker, yet a warrior, too.

“He was a good man, one who always abided by doing things the right way. No conflict, no strife,” said Federico Freire, 26. “But he loved the infantry just like I do. We agreed if you were in the military, what other job is there besides the infantry? To fight for the freedom of this country, you’ve got to go infantry. We were willing to risk everything.”

That Mr. Friere survived Afghanistan only to suffer this fate has been wrenching for his family.

“Mom knew he was doing what he wanted to do,” said Piovera, interpreting for her mother, a native of Argentina. “If he would’ve died in Afghanistan, the pain would’ve been still there, but it wouldn’t be so hard as it is now. We’re trying to deal with saying our goodbyes as much as we can with the pain.

“We want to let people know what kind of man he was, what an honor it was for us to have him serve his country.”

Born in Mendoza, Argentina, Mr. Freire came to the United States at 3 and loved being an American, said sister Julie Freire.

His ambition was to be a lawman and he even spent more than three years with the Bradenton Police Department Explorers as a teenager.

“He was bright, determined. Just a skinny 14-year-old, but we watched him grow up before our eyes,” BPD Sgt. L.J. Millard said. “This is such a loss.”

A sentiment echoed by Dustin Ferrell, a former Explorer and MHS classmate.

“We lost touch after high school and it’s unfortunate it’s taken this to bring us together,” he said. “We always thought he was Mr. Invincible.”

Federico Freire knows how his brother earned that perception.

“Since I was 13, we always played cops or military, dress up in battle gear, paint our faces, rappel off trees,” he said. “Then when 9/11 happened, we had it in our hearts to do something. After I decided on the Marines, he wanted to do it, too.”

Mr. Freire’s unit fought in Helmand Province, a notorious Taliban stronghold, and, said his brother, was involved in more than 50 firefights during his six-month combat tour.

“He lost a lot of friends, there were many ambushes, IEDs,” his brother said.

“He went through a lot in Afghanistan,” Julie Freire said.

She told of profound observations about the enemy in her brother’s combat journal.

“I’m making decisions that could either save my life or his,” Mr. Freire wrote. “I go home to my family, or he goes home to his.”

He had a tender side, too.

“He sent me flowers for my birthday,” Julie Freire said.

He also surprised his other sister with a thoughtful phone call.

“He called me from Afghanistan, woke me up last Mother’s Day,” Carina Piovera said. “I was half asleep, but I could hear him say, ‘Hey, Carina, happy Mother’s Day. I love you. I miss you. How are the kids?’

“He was a great brother, a great son, a great friend.”

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