Mother remembers fallen soldier

Robert T. Ayres III

Sgt. Robert T. Ayres III is the first known Malibu High School student to die in armed combat. He was killed while protecting fellow soldiers in Iraq.

By Jonathan Friedman / Assistant Editor

The mother of a Malibu High School alumnus killed last month in Iraq remembers her son as “a really brave young man” and “a sweet boy who was really good to his mom.”

Sgt. Robert T. Ayres III was killed Sept. 29 in Baghdad during an attack on his unit. He was 23.

His mother, Los Osos resident Michelle Ayres, said she is in tears about her son’s death, but she is able to smile a little by thinking of him.

“Robert was not a sad person,” she said. “He wouldn’t want us to be sad. He was funny. He was goofy. If you were sad for five minutes, he would do something really silly and make you laugh. Every time I become sad, I think of something ridiculous he did.”

Ayres was born on July 26, 1984 and grew up in Los Osos, a small city located in San Luis Obispo County. He moved to Brentwood when he was 15 to live with his father, Robert Ayres II. The younger Ayres was later cared for by Malibu High School science teacher Nancy Schelkopf, and was given a room in her home.

He joined the Army shortly after high school, and was on his second tour of duty when he was killed.

“When he joined the Army he was 19 years old and really skinny,” said Michelle Ayres, who commented she was surprised to see how large and strong he had become when she saw him in his coffin. “I’m his mom and I didn’t want him to go, but he had a vision for himself.”

Ayres said her son wanted to join the Sheriff’s Department because he had a respect and admiration for authority. She had not seen him in nearly two years prior to his death, but she did hear from him from time to time through letters.

Recently, Ayres received an e-mail from her son’s best friend, Chris Sanders, in which he described Robert Ayres’ final moments. Through that, she learned her son died while protecting fellow soldiers.

“I did talk to some of the guys who were there when he was hit,” Sanders wrote. “When they started taking heavy fire he pushed men into the doorway to a house and spun around to return fire to cover his soldiers as they moved. That’s when he was hit. He died protecting the men he led. That’s the way any real infantryman can hope to die. But to me that wasn’t abnormal for Bob. He put his men’s life before his own all the time.”

Ayres wrote in an e-mail to The Malibu Times forwarding the message from Sanders, “My son was so brave and I’m so proud of him. I wanted to share it. God will indulge a mother just this once for having so much pride.”

Ayres was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker, Calvary Regiment based in Vilseck, Germany.

Ayres is the first known Malibu High School student to die in military service. He was buried at a military cemetery in Los Angeles last week on Wednesday, and a memorial service took place two days later in Los Osos for friends and family.

In addition to his parents, Ayres is survived by his twin brother, Jackson, another brother, Aaron, and sisters Mimi and Dorothy.