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STUDENTS GET UP CLOSE AND PERSONAL WITH AMERICAN DEFENDER SAILOR CALLED TO ACTION TELLS OF LIFE'S TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS.

Byline: Peggy Hager Staff Writer

LITTLEROCK - Sailor John Fabela was with shipmates at a motel in Australia when the motel manager told them they had a call ordering them back to their amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu.

It was Sept. 11, and the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had been attacked.

Fabela and his ship, from which the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit landed Nov. 25 in Afghanistan, spent seven months at sea, starting weeks before Sept. 11.

``There's so much that went on, I can't remember everything. Well, I can: It's a big blur,'' said Fabela, 23, who said he sometimes worked 20- hour days.

A 1997 Littlerock High School graduate, Fabela spoke Monday, and will return again today to speak, to Littlerock High students in the world history classes of Bruce Galler, with whom he has been carrying on an e-mail correspondence.

``The reason I talk is just to give them a brief description of being in the military, the motivation that it took to come back alive and that they should apply it to their own life,'' said Fabela, who is a firefighter, fire inspector and a member of the chemical, biological and radiological warfare team aboard the Peleliu.

Fabela said he was a high school junior when he decided to change, after he was suspended for fighting and ``saw my academic part of my life going down the drain.''

He said it wasn't hard to turn his life around. ``It was just a matter of choosing my friends wisely,'' said Fabela.

Fabela told the teens: ``I know I wanted to be a firefighter since I was 16. When I was your age there was two types of people ... I hung around with the bad people and saw where it could take me.''

He said six of his old friends are in prison, two have committed suicide and the others don't seem to have any real goals for their lives.

``Take what you've got now seriously. The choices you make today dictate what you want to be,'' Fabela said.

The Peleliu is the ship on which John Walker Lindh, the ``American Taliban,'' was imprisoned after his capture in Afghanistan. Fabela saw the captive on board wearing a pillowcase around his head.

``It was wild,'' said Fabela.

On board ship before Sept. 11, he spent his spare time listening to Metallica, playing chess and boxing.

``Boxing was the thing until the war showed up,'' said Fabela.

Fabela plans on working as a firefighter when he leaves the Navy after his four-year stint.

The students presented him with a thank-you card for defending the country and for corresponding with the class.

Clint West, 17, enjoyed the personal visit by Fabela.

``It's pretty cool, something out of the ordinary,'' said West.

``It think it's really cool that somebody's talking to us,'' said Brandon Szilagyi, 15. ``Fighting sucks. I don't believe in it,'' said Szilagyi who admitted, ``I'm glad they're protecting us.''

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(color) The Navy's John Fabela talks with history students at Littlerock High School about his experiences aboard the USS Peleliu and with life.

Jeff Goldwater/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 26, 2002
Words:522
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