Bill Campbell’s last text from Luis F. DeLeon-Figueroa ended with the message, “I love you, Dad.”
“He’s been with us since he was seven,” Campbell, DeLeon-Figueroa’s foster father, said Friday. “The Army changed Luis in so many ways as far as discipline. Look at what he did. He became a Green Beret.”
DeLeon-Figueroa, 31, of Chicopee, was killed in action Wednesday in Afghanistan while serving with the 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne), from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.
DeLeon-Figueroa had two children and a stepchild. Funeral arrangements have not yet been announced.
Also killed was another master sergeant, Jose J. Gonzalez, 35, of La Puente, California.
Friday would have been DeLeon-Figueroa’s birthday, which he shared with Bill and Lisa Campbell’s daughter Lindsey.
“He was part of our family and we were part of his family,” said Lisa Campbell, DeLeon-Figueroa’s foster mother. She recalled that DeLeon-Figueroa affectionately called her his “white Mom,” and called himself the family’s Puerto Rican brother.
“His grandmother basically raised him, and he always called her ‘Mom’ as well,” she said.
Master Sgt. Luis DeLeon-Figueroa, Chicopee Green Beret killed in action, remembered for good nature, perseverance at Chicopee High School
‘He always knew what he wanted to do. He got there,’ the high school’s principal said.
The relationship between DeLeon-Figueroa and the Campbells began when Bill Campbell was coaching his own sons on the Chicopee Braves Pop Warner youth football team.
One day at practice they heard a voice coming from a tree. It was Luis chirping away, heckling the players. He lived in the housing projects across the street from the practice field.
“Well, if you can talk so much, you must be pretty good. Why can’t you come out and join the team,” Bill Campbell recalled saying to the boy.
DeLeon-Figueroa did, becoming a star running back and middle linebacker. But he was a tough, undisciplined kid and a handful for the grandmother who was raising him.
He got close the Campbells, often sleeping over after practice.
When he was 13, the Campbells went through the legal process of becoming his foster parents.
“He loved being around us,” Lisa Campbell said.
Bill Campbell said the family gave DeLeon-Figueroa a sense of discipline and of structure — two things he craved both with them and in the Army.
“He didn’t have traditions,” Bill Campbell said. “He never went to cut down a Christmas tree.”
Lisa Campbell recalled DeLeon-Figueroa singing, loudly, in the shower to the 1980s patriotic tune “Proud to be an American” as a way of annoying his newfound siblings.
As high school continued, Bill Campbell said DeLeon-Figueroa worried about letting him down because his academic record was spotty. He also worried that his grandmother needed him.
He went back to her, but kept contact with the Campbells. After he dropped out, he went to night school to get his diploma. But he didn’t know what a good next step would be.
Bill Campbell said he encouraged DeLeon-Figueroa to join the Army.
“He knew what the service would give to him,” he said. “It made him a man. He found a family in the Army.”
Bill Campbell said his son called him when he was about to enter training for the Green Berets.
“He said he was scared,” he said. “Luis wasn’t scared of much.”
He also recalls the triumphant phone call when DeLeon-Figueroa successfully completed the training and realized the dream of joining the military’s Special Forces.
“At that last reenlistment, we talked,” Bill Campbell said. “I told him that this is who he is: ‘We want you to have that 20-year career.’”
Their last communication was a few months ago, after the death of Bill Campbell’s mother, a woman who’d been another grandmother to DeLeon-Figueroa.
The text came back from DeLeon-Figueroa a few days later.
“I love Nanny and I love you, Dad,” he said.
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