They were high school sweethearts who "fell in love at first sight," so imagine the heartbreak when Lesly Garcia found out her husband, Sgt. Israel "Ira" Garcia, had been killed in Afghanistan.

The 24-year-old Long Beach resident was killed Sunday while serving his third tour of duty.

"He's a true fallen hero," said his sister-in-law Hilda Revolorio. "He fought for this country."

Ira, as he was known to his family, always wanted to join the Army, so soon after high school graduation in 2002 he was off to the military.

Garcia had been stationed in Vicenza, Italy, since June 2006, only three months after he and his wife were married.

"They met at the Belmont Plaza Pool the summer before their senior years of high school," said Revolorio. "He was the love of her life."

The Poly High graduate, who also attended Lafayette Elementary and Jackie Robinson Academy, loved horses and soccer.

"He used to play soccer for Poly, and he and his parents owned two horses," said his sister-in-law.

His unit, 173rd Airborne Brigade, has been in Afghanistan since May 2007.

"He was a great guy and would go out of his way for anybody, and he was a great son," said Revolorio.

Lesly had been staying with family in Long Beach while her husband was away, but was preparing to return to Italy because her husband was returning home in two weeks.

"She was scheduled to leave, going back to Italy on Monday night, July 14. They gave us the news of his death Monday morning," said her sister. "She wanted to go home and get the house ready for him."

According to his family, Garcia was a giving man who loved and was loved.

"There are no words to describe him. He was loved by everybody," said Revolorio. We will miss his smile, his great sense of humor. He will be truly missed."

Garcia is survived by his wife; his parents, Victor and Maricruz Garcia; and his brother, Ramsses Garcia, all of Long Beach.

Memorial service plans are pending.