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Decade after son’s death in Iraq, Henderson mom dedicates her time to support troops

It’s been 10 years since Marina Vance’s son, Spc. Ignacio “Nacho” Ramirez, died while serving overseas. While she is still saddened by the memory, her son’s death has led her to be a voice for the troops.

“What happened to me was the worst pain I’ve ever experienced,” said Vance, a Henderson resident. “It’s a pain I would never wish on my worst enemy.”

Today, Vance chooses to focus on the good memories that Ramirez brought her, saying, “He was a happy person. He would want me to be happy.”

And nothing makes her happier than supporting the troops.

Vance immigrated to the U.S. in the 1980s. She eventually moved to Henderson, where she raised her children. When Ramirez graduated from Basic High School, he told his mom he wanted to join the military.

At first, Vance was skeptical.

However, she learned quickly to support him wholeheartedly. But on Aug. 9, 2006, the 22-year-old was killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq. His death filled Vance with not only sorrow but also anger.

“It was the kind of anger that swells from your gut,” she said.

She remembered the day she saw his casket draped in the American flag at the airport.

“I was angry,” she said. “I kept screaming (at the casket) ‘Get up, soldier.’ A soldier gets up.”

After Ramirez died, driving down the streets of Henderson was too painful for her. The park where he played and the movie theaters he visited all brought back memories.

Almost every day or night, she would visit his grave.

“I would think, ‘I need to bring a blanket because he might be cold,’ ” she said.

She decided to visit Mexico City, where her family lives, to get away from it all.

Vance soon had to snap out of that for the sake of her other children. “They didn’t just lose a brother,” she said. “They lost a mother.”

She decided to get involved with Blue Star Mothers of Henderson and Boulder City, an organization for mothers who have children serving or who have served in the military. She also became involved with American Gold Star Mothers, an organization of mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of their country.

“She has been an incredible asset,” said Chere Pedersen, also a member of Blue Star Mothers. “We’ve learned a lot from her and how to connect with Gold Star Mothers.”

Pedersen said the normal reaction might be to abstain from talking to Gold Star Mothers about their children in an effort to make them feel more comfortable.

“(Marina) has shown us they love talking about their kids just as much as we do,” Pedersen said.

Vance added that sometimes working with Gold Star Mothers is too sad for her, but she will still go to funerals to be a shoulder to lean on for other members.

Blue Star Mothers have been supportive from the beginning, she said. The group has not only comforted her throughout the last 10 years, it also surprised her by having her house painted, as well as organizing dedications for her son.

The group came together on Aug. 9 to have a special event at Ramirez’s grave at the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Boulder City to mark the anniversary of his death.

“I was really surprised how many people came out to that,” Vance said.

She has been volunteering with the group over the last decade to organize collection drives to send special packages to the troops.

“My cause is to take care of the troops,” she added.

Vance also has served as the president of Blue Star Mothers and as a liaison for Blue to Gold, a Blue Star Mothers of America program implemented to honor fallen troops and to recognize a mother, spouse and family’s ultimate sacrifice.

Vance was even appointed by Gov. Brian Sandoval to sit on the advisory board for the Southern Nevada Veterans Memorial Cemetery.

“People say I do so much,” she said. “I never thought about it. I just go, go, go.”

She has also become an advocate for supporting the military. Once self-described as a shy person, she said she has become outspoken when it comes to soldiers.

“I used to not want to speak because of my accent,” she said. “So what if I have an accent? So what if I say a word wrong?”

Pedersen said Vance has become more open.

“You can tell she is more comfortable talking now,” Pedersen said. “It’s good for people to hear her story.”

The whole experience has turned out to be healing for Vance. She said people often come up to her to say they have seen her speak or know her story.

“I’m just a simple woman,” she said. “Anything I can do to help the troops, I will.”

For more information about Blue Star Mothers, visit bluestarmothers.org or bluestarmothersnv4.wordpress.com.

For more information about Gold Star Mothers, visit goldstarmoms.com.

To reach Henderson View reporter Michael Lyle, email mlyle@viewnews.com or call 702-387-5201. Find him on Twitter: @mjlyle

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