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Service honors Marine killed in Afghanistan

U.S. gives family certificate making Lance Cpl. San Sim a U.S. citizen as of day he died.

NEWPORT BEACH – Lance Cpl. San Sim's wife made a quiet promise to him Saturday as she ran her hand over the white stars of the flag that covered his coffin.

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Saturday, November 1, 2008
The Orange County Register

He's always going to be in my heart," Karla Sim said. "And that of his son."

Sim, 23, a U.S. Marine with a streak of good humor, died late last month in a roadside bomb blast in Afghanistan. His parents and siblings, who had escaped the killing fields of Cambodia before he was born, dressed in white for his funeral Saturday to help his spirit find them.

Along with his medals and a tightly folded flag, his family received a certificate from the government that finally made Sim a U.S. citizen, as of the day of his death.

"He's always been a good person with a big heart," said his father, Sum Sim. "It's sad that he has to leave us so soon."

Sim was born in a refugee camp in the Philippines, the youngest of 11 children in a family fleeing Cambodia. Later, when he started talking about joining the Marines, his sister would remind him that the family had come from war and had seen enough of war.

His family moved to the United States when he was still a baby. He grew up in Santa Ana, loved to fish, wrestled for Santa Ana Valley High School. In old family videos shown during his funeral, he was the skinny boy showing off his dance moves or throwing his head back to laugh.

He joined the Marines after high school. He told his family that he wanted to serve because of "the opportunity that the country has given to us, allowing us to start a life all over again," according to his sister Yasmine.

He shipped out for Afghanistan in April, his third deployment to a war zone after two stints in Iraq. He and Karla had just had their first child, Donovan. One of the videos played at his funeral shows him in his camouflage, hugging his son to his chest.

"It broke his heart when duty called … allowing him to know his son for only four months," his family wrote in a tribute.

More than 50 Marines in dress-blue uniforms attended Sim's funeral. Many had served with him in Iraq or Afghanistan. They talked about how he could crack a joke or quote a movie, even in the worst situations.

They knew him as Simba – a nickname that stuck after someone caught him watching "The Lion King" on his cot.

"He was just a big ball of fun," said Lance Cpl. Dylan Morgan, who served with Sim in Iraq. "He was an all-around good guy."

Sim was killed while on routine patrol in Afghanistan on Oct. 22. His unit was scheduled to return home later this month.

His family buried him on Saturday, walking up a steep hill to his gravesite, throwing popcorn as they went to mark the path for his spirit. They passed a bouquet of fresh roses and six small flags that mark the grave of Navy Medic Marc Allen Retmier, killed in Afghanistan in June.

Buddhist monks in orange robes chanted around Sim's coffin. Marines in white gloves gave him one last, crisp salute.

His wife wore his dog tag on a chain around her neck. Her shoulders shook when Marines presented her with a folded flag.

She ran her hand over his coffin before the burial and told him that she would always remember him and loved him very much. She promised that Donovan would grow up to know his father.

"Thank you," she whispered, "for what you gave me."

She buried him with a cigarette and a few dollar bills, a Buddhist tradition meant to ease his time in the afterlife, before his reincarnation. She placed a white rose on top of his coffin, along with a photograph of their son.

Contact the writer: 714-704-3777 or dirving@ocregister.com