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A military veteran color guard entered the Madelia High School auditorium Thursday at the start of a brief memorial observance for 2009 graduate Emilio Campo Jr., a U.S. Army soldier killed in Iraq this week.

The city of Madelia is awash in yellow ribbons.

They bedeck trees, pillars, lampposts and flag poles in honor of one of the 2,400-resident town’s favorite sons.

U.S. Army combat medic Emilio Campo Jr., 20, was killed in Iraq on Monday. His death was the first war loss for Madelia since Vietnam and came as crushing news to friends and family of the outgoing former high school homecoming king.

“No matter what we did with him, simple or crazy, it was always fun with him,” said Tom Schumacher, among Campo’s former classmates who attended a brief all-school memorial observance Thursday at Madelia High School.

The U.S. Department of Defense on Thursday said Campo died in Baghdad of injuries sustained when enemy forces attacked his unit with  rockets.

Four other soldiers also were killed. Campo is the 89th member of the military with Minnesota ties to die of combat-related injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His parents traveled to an Air Force base in Delaware earlier this week for the return of their son’s body.

Campo and his family moved to Madelia from Texas in the early 1990s. He played several sports in high school, went on mission trips with his church, and joined the National Guard before his senior year.

Friends and kin said he saw military service as a way to pay for a college education his family could ill afford.

Friend and high school classmate Jared Bridges said Campo wanted to pursue a career in sports medicine, perhaps as an athletic trainer.

Bridges joked that his friend’s career aspiration may have been born the hard way because in sports he was always getting injured.

Campo was described as a smooth talker, a ladies man, charismatic, and joyously impulsive.

Classmate Samantha Bestick recalls going with him to River Hills Mall in Mankato.

“He’d always either make friends or he’d start screaming in the middle of the mall, just having a good time all by himself. It was so fun.”

On his military-leave visits to Madelia and in correspondence from Iraq, Campo would always downplay the concerns of others for his safety.

“We’d tell him to be safe and he’d just play it off like it was nothing,” Schumacher said.

Added Van Hale, “It was his job. He treated it like he was going to work every day.”

Campo’s girlfriend and former classmate Sam Crowley — she was homecoming queen to his homecoming king — said he was due to come home in four months.

She said he had visited or looked into various schools, including Minnesota State University, and had maintained a constant reminder of his goal.

“He had an MSU T-shirt on his wall. That was his motivation to go to college.”

In a 2009 graduation section of the Madelia Times-Messenger newspaper, Campo cited his favorite quote: “Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.”

This article contains information from Minnesota Public Radio News.

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