A local war veteran, whose life was cut short after returning home from overseas, is being honored in a special way this holiday season.
Gabriel Barajas served two years in Iraq. He was a member of the special forces team that helped capture Saddam Hussein. They were so thankful when he made it back to Las Vegas alive in 2004. Little did they know, they wouldn't get nearly enough time with him. The 21-year-old died, after being hit by a car, while changing a tire.
"He was always the life of the party," says Gabriel's sister-in-law, Laura. "He always had a smile on his face, and would do anything to make someone happy. He put everybody else above himself. That's why he joined the Army. He wanted to take care of people, make sure every one was okay."
Even in death, that's holding true. Gabriel saved the life of 12-year-old, Ernesto Chavez - and many other people - by donating his organs.
"It's just amazing to think of the lives that he's saved," Laura says. "I'm so happy we can keep honoring him. He deserves every bit of it."
The latest honor will take place during next month's Rose Bowl in Pasadena. A portrait of Gabriel, made of flowers, will be featured on a special float in the famed Tournament of Roses Parade.
Gabriel's family came together to help put the finishing touches on the portrait. They, along with Ernesto's family, will get to ride on the float during the parade.
"They've become our adopted family," Laura says. "We visit each other regularly. It's been an honor to see how Gabriel gave Ernesto a chance to have a full life."
Ernesto and his family live in Palm Springs. 12 yeasrr Ernesto says Gabriel is his hero, not just for serving our country, but for giving him a second chance to live after kidney failure.
The parade float is sponsored by the non-profit, Donate Life America. It will feature other organ donors and recipients from around the country.