Support the news

Memories of "Superman" Soldier

This article is more than 13 years old.

Family and friends of Army Sgt. Joan Duran plan to gather tomorrow to mourn his death in Iraq. Duran died in what the defense department calls a non-combat related accident.

He was one of three Massachusetts soldiers to die in Iraq last week.

Duran was born in the Dominican Republic but grew up in Jamaica Plain where he earned the nickname "Superman" for his athletic ability and good nature.TEXT OF STORY:


Remy Pena grew up down the street from Joan Duran and watched him race to catch the school bus every morning. Pena says Duran — then a high school track star — seemed to be running 35 miles an hour.

REMY PENA: Everytime the bus would fly by he's gonna race it, no matter what happened his big breaks. Boosh! He still managed to grab his bag and still run another quarter of a mile and gets on that bus.

TONESS: Because of heroics like these, friends nicknamed Duran "Superman." According to them everything he did was faster, funnier, and bigger.

PENA: He always had a big, big book bag. He always had everything. He'd fit all the books for every single class, he'd fir extra underwares, extra juice. He had his life in that bag. And he'd never forget the Dominican flag on the back.TONESS: When Duran came home from the Army on R& R, he and his friends would often gather at this apartment in Jamaica Plain...where they are now.TONESS: About ten friends are watching videos that Duran shot in the Army. They all admire Duran for leaving town, and, as they say, doing something with his life.

Especially 21-year-old Geovany Tovar. He calls himself a slacker and says he relied on Duran's occasional visits, to push him into action.

GEOVANY TOVAR: It could be homework stuff, a test you guys...If he noticed you were slacking on it. He would be right by your side and get annoying, to the point where you're like, "All right, all right, I'll do it. And he won't settle for that. He'll do it with you and see the whole thing through.

TONESS: Zunilda Rodgriguez owns this apartment where her sons, Duran and the other young men spent so much of their youth.RODRIGUEZ: In Spanish
Joan was a leader when they were kids. Even at a very young age, he always gave advice to the boys, even to the older ones. he told them let's join together, everyone who doesn't have a dad at home. and that's how they formed their group.

TONESS: Duran's friends may have called him "Superman", but not everything went his way.

DA ROCHA: Here's a young man who was all set for college, all set to go to Wentworth, and then next thing I know he's in the military.TONESS: Tony da Rocha coached Duran from seventh to eleventh grade at Boston Latin School. Duran got A's and B's at the elite exam school. He got into Wentworth Institute of Technology. But friends say he didn't have the money. He went into the army instead.

Da Rocha says it was clear Duran didn't lead an easy life as the son of a single mother.

DA ROCHA: When he didn't have a pair of sneakers or something and I saw, he would never asked for one, but I knew and I went out and brought him one because we wanted him to have
the right equipment to train in. Because he was very proud like that, he wasn't going to ask anyone for anything. But you could tell that he needed something.

TONESS: Duran was killed August 10th. He was 24 years old. He was supposed to come home from his second tour in Iraq last month, but the Army extended his stay until October.

Perhaps no one's more aware of that irony than his fiancee, Andrea Silva. She's with his friends in the apartment.

ANDREA SILVA: He wanted to be a math teacher. He was really smart. He used to help me with my math homework over the phone when he was in Iraq.

TONESS: Silva's eyes starts to well up, so her friend leans in.

NATALIA GAIBOR: Joan was a really romantic person since I met him and he was always searching for "the one". And he's had his heart broken like a million times, but once he met Andrea he found her. I'm glad that he at least found you.

TONESS: Friends say Duran had saved enough money to buy a house when he got back from Iraq. He and Silva had planned to move in together by Christmas.

This program aired on August 17, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

Support the news