Army Pfc. Joel Ramirez was killed in the line of duty in April 2011 while serving his country in Afghanistan, but his memory continues to live on in the lives of his family members.

Joel, who would have turned 25 years old Friday, July 12, is being remembered for the wonderful son, protective and loving brother and the dedicated soldier that he was.

“His death has been very hard for me,” Joel’s father Felicinno said from the family’s home in Waxahachie. “I feel like it was just yesterday that he passed away. He was my first son, my right hand and my friend.”

Felicinno said he has every birthday party of Joel’s on video.

“He loved pińatas and cakes,” he said. “This is the day that we would normally have a party for him with all of the family surrounding him.”

He said he has tried to remain strong, but some days are harder than others.

“I think of my son 24/7,” he expressed. “I keep waiting for him to walk through the door or a phone call, but it never comes.”

With a piece of him feeling like it’s been missing for the past two years, Felicinno said he is looking forward to some of Joel’s army buddies making a stop in Waxahachie.

“His friends are coming to visit and bring some of Joel’s things,” he said. “Being around them will be like having Joel here with me.

Feeling hesitant about Joel’s enlistment into the army, Felicinno said he never told Joel that he couldn’t go, but he chose to offer some encouraging words before sending him off.

“When he told me that he had joined, I wasn’t happy about it,” he said. “I told him that now he’s in, he needed to put everything that he had into it.

He instructed his son that if he ever had moments of being tired, to never surrender, but to keep his faith strong, stay honest, friendly and work hard.

“He did all of those things,” Felicinno said. “His superiors always recognized his strength and determination”

Irma, Joel’s mother said she feels that he is still here with them in spirit.

“I keep thinking he’s going to come back, but I know he is in a better place,” Irma said. “However, for me he is still here. I miss my son a lot and I keep thinking he’s going to come back and I know he’s not.”

Irma said she has been able to see Joel’s smile and hear his laughter in his 4-year-old daughter.

“I see him in her a lot,” she said through tears. “She looks and laughs just like my son. I remember when he was that age and she is just like him. She is my angel and I love it when she is here. She always looks at Joel’s pictures and says ‘that is my dad.’”

Remembering their brother for the protective and fun sibling, 17-year-old Maria and 18-year-old Christian talked about the fun they used to have with Joel.

“My favorite memories are the ones from summer,” Maria said. “We had a lot of free time and we would play all the time. We had this one game where we would pretend that the floor was like lava and jump from couch to couch. I miss those times.”

Maria said there isn’t a day that goes by that she doesn’t think about her brother, but Friday was special because it was his birthday.

“I keep thinking what he would be doing at this stage in his life,” she said.

Maria said this is not a time of mourning, but it’s a perfect time for them to remember all of the great things about him and celebrate his life.

Christian said because Joel was the oldest he was always in charge of the house. She said they looked forward to hanging out with him, because he always came up with great ideas.

“Whenever our brothers included us in their plans it always made us feel so special,” Christian said. “They were a lot older than us and we always looked up to them.

She said Joel not only made things fun for all of them, but he was always willing to give them advice.

“When he was in high school he would encourage us to stay in school and to be everything we wanted in life,” she said. “He always took care of us and made sure that nothing ever hurt us or happened to us.”

The last time they saw Joel was February before his deployment to Afghanistan. His visit was intended as a surprise for Irma. Maria said her father went to the airport to get him when her mother was at work.

“By the time she came home my brother was in uniform waiting for her,” she said. “He had two weeks of leave. The first week he spent visiting our brother and his best friend Daniel at Texas State. They spent that week catching up. It was almost like old times before Joel had joined the army.”

She said after spending a week with friends he came back to Waxahachie.

“We tried to spend as much time with him as possible,” Maria said. “He went and visited my parents at work, just tagging along in their daily routine so they could spend every moment together. He even came and visited my sister and I during school lunch, because he wanted to meet our teachers and friends.

She said on his last day she, Joel and Christian went to the mall to visit with his daughter. During the car ride Joel asked them to help him write a letter to his daughter in case something happened.

“When we got to the mall we saw his daughter, spending the day shopping and playing with her,” she said. “Before we left Joel gave her his dog tags and that letter for her to read when she gets older.”

She said he also left all of his civilian clothes and belongings with their mother, instructing her to give all of his things to their brother Daniel.

“Before he left he made sure to say his goodbyes and tie up all the loose ends,” Marie said. “The next morning my dad took him to the airport. Right before he walked inside he hugged my dad and took his coat off leaving him with a farewell gift.”

She said Joel had dreams of coming back after the war and going to college with Daniel. The day he left it didn’t really sink in that would be the last time they would see him.

“We knew the dangers he would be in, but never once did we think anything could happen to him,” she said. “We had hope that he would come back.”

To celebrate his memory, the Ramirez family gathered around the dinner table and shared stories of Joel and how he touched each of their lives.

In honor of his service to this country, Joel’s name was the first to be displayed on the Wall of Dreams on the campus of Life School Waxahachie. The wall features engraved plaques with the name, rank, branch of service, conflict and hometown of fallen heroes from the Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars.

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