Category: Honor the Fallen

Army Pfc. James David Parker

Died January 21, 2004 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
20, of Bryan, Texas; assigned to the 588th Engineer Battalion (Heavy), 4th Infantry Division, Fort Hood, Texas; killed Jan. 21 in a mortar attack on his forward operating base in Baqubah, Iraq.
Texas soldier killed in Iraq

Associated Press

BRYAN, Texas — Pfc. David Parker’s quick wit and smiling face earned him many friends in Central Texas even though he lived there just two years.

“Every time I was with him there was always something to laugh about,” said his girlfriend, Amy Bolline. “He was such a happy person you couldn’t help but be happy right along with him.”

Parker, 20, was killed in Iraq on Jan. 21 when a mortar round exploded near him at his compound near Baqubah. He joined the Army in October 2002 and had been assigned to the Fort Hood-based 4th Infantry Division’s 588th Engineer Battalion since February.

Another member of the battalion, 22-year-old Spc. Gabriel Palacios, also died in the attack. A native of Nicaragua, he listed Lynn, Mass., as his home in military records.

Although Parker followed his father and grandfather into military service, his family was surprised when as a teen he decided to enlist.

“He just felt like he had some calling to do that,” his father, Jim Parker, told the Bryan-College Station Eagle in Friday’s editions. “That was David; He was always concerned about other people. He was a compassionate kid.”

While in Iraq, Parker volunteered for ordnance disposal, a highly dangerous job that involved clearing paths of mines and booby traps before other troops advanced.

Parker had been back in Bryan on leave as recently as November.

“He was just really together,” his father said. “He missed his family and he was glad to be home, but he was really in his element.”

Parker grew up in San Diego, where he developed a love for surfing, hip-hop and freestyle rapping. Shortly after he graduated from high school, his family moved to Bryan and he came along.

He assembled a crowd of friends in Bryan although he spent most of his time at Fort Hood. David Thomas said he and his two roommates considered Parker an unofficial roommate because he stayed with them so often.

“You’d never see him in a bad mood,” Thomas said. “If you met him you loved him.”

Friends said Parker saw the military as an opportunity to develop discipline, a chance to make it on his own and a vehicle to someday help pay for tuition at Texas A&M, where he hoped to study engineering.

“It hurts, but it still makes me proud to know that he died for his country,” Thomas said. “He’s a hero.”

Parker is survived by his parents and two younger brothers.

Army Sgt. Omar L. Mora

Died September 10, 2007 Serving During Operation Iraqi Freedom
28, of Texas City, Texas; assigned to the 1st Squadron, 73rd Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C.; died Sept. 10 in Baghdad of injuries sustained in a non-combat-related vehicle rollover. Also killed were Staff Sgt. Yance T. Gray, Staff Sgt. Gregory Rivera-Santiago, Sgt. Michael C. Hardegree, Sgt. Nicholas J. Patterson, Spc. Ari D. Brown-Weeks and Spc. Steven R. Elrod.
Mother wants explanation for son’s Iraq death

By Monica Rhor

The Associated Press

TEXAS CITY, Texas — The mother of an Army sergeant who died in a Baghdad vehicle accident weeks after writing a New York Times op-ed critical of the Pentagon’s positive assessment of the Iraq war said Sept. 12 she wants the Army to explain his death.

“I want to know all the details of how he died. I want to know the truth,” said Olga Capetillo, whose 28-year-old son, Sgt. Omar Mora, died Sept. 10. “I don’t understand how so many people could die in that accident. How could it be so bad?”

Capetillo, who emigrated from Ecuador when Mora was 2, agonized about her son in Iraq. But after Mora co-wrote the sharply critical op-ed, new worries overlapped the old.

Capetillo feared that the article, which ran Aug. 19 in The New York Times, could damage her son’s military career or cause him other problems. She said that in the weeks since writing the piece with six other active-duty U.S. soldiers, Mora had seemed increasingly depressed and withdrawn.

“I said to him: ‘Son, I don’t want you to have problems because of this. Hopefully, nothing will happen,’ ” said Capetillo, speaking in Spanish in the midst of grief so raw and inconsolable it seemed to reverberate around her.

Mora and one of his co-authors, Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, of Ismay, Mont., were killed Sept. 10 in a vehicle accident along with five other U.S. soldiers and two detainees. The single-vehicle accident also wounded 11 other soldiers and one detainee.

The military did not mention hostile fire and did not specify the neighborhood in western Baghdad.

The controversial Times column, called “The War As We Saw It,” expressed doubts about American gains in Iraq. “To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched,” the group wrote.

In the last line, the authors reaffirmed their own commitment: “We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.”

Another author of the Times piece, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head while the article was being written. He was expected to survive after being flown to a military hospital in the U.S.

Mora and Gray, members of the 82nd Airborne Division, joined the military out of a sense of duty and selflessness, people who knew them said. Both were married and leave behind small daughters.

Mora grew up in Texas City, about 40 miles south of Houston. A high school soccer player and car aficionado, Mora also taught Sunday school at St. Mary of the Miraculous Medal church.

He enlisted after Sept. 11, 2001, driven by a need to act, said his mother. Within three years, he was a sergeant.

But Mora, a permanent legal resident, longed to join the Special Forces, which requires citizenship. He received his citizenship papers two weeks ago and was waiting to be sworn in when his deployment ended in November.

“My son gave his life for this country. He was proud of this country, even though he was not an American yet,” said Capetillo. “I want people to know that we Hispanics love this country too.”

Despite his patriotism, Capetillo said Mora seemed to grow disturbed by the poverty and pain afflicting the country’s children. He often asked his family to send cookies and candies for the children, said his mother, a beautician.

In April, Mora came home on a two-week leave. His ears were injured by a roadside bomb and a friend lost his arm. In August, another friend died in Mora’s arms.

That death seemed to leave a grim imprint, Capetillo said.

On Sept. 7, an unusually subdued Mora called his mother, and the two spoke for what would be the last time.

“He was so quiet, as if he did not want anyone to hear him,” said Capetillo, as family and friends encircled her in her Texas City kitchen. “I told him that I was counting the days until he would come home, that I would give him a big hug.”

Mora told his mother that he was very tired.

“Maybe he had a premonition that something was going to happen to him, that he was not going to come back,” said Capetillo, as tears moistened her face. “My son escaped death two times before. But this time, no.”

Gray, who grew up on a horse and cattle ranch outside the town of 25 residents, graduated with a class of just 18 from Plevna High School. He and four fellow students joined the military, and news of his death spread quickly through the 138-person town, said school secretary Lynette O’Connor.

An avid hunter and member of the school’s basketball team, Gray was known to be helpful and quick with a smile.

Gray’s relatives said the soldier felt so strongly about the Army that he re-enlisted two or three years ago, despite the war. He loved being in uniform, they said, noting that writing the op-ed piece must have been a difficult decision.

“I thought it was pretty brave of them to do that,” said Marge Griebel, who is married to Gray’s grandfather. “It is good that some of us people back here can hear some of those things. They must have put a lot of thought and time into that letter before they put it out.”

Griebel called Gray a hero and said the family was grief-stricken.

“It was something they knew could happen, but they just kept praying that it won’t,” she said.

Gray, who went by the name Tell, wrote on his MySpace page that he would like to meet past leaders, including Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

“I have so many questions for those leaders in our time of need,” Gray wrote.

But, Gray wrote that his wife was his hero, calling her “the strongest woman I know.” He also talked of his infant daughter, Ava Madison Gray, and his dreams for the future: “Being a good person who others can turn too in times of need. Becoming a great father.”

Associated Press Writer Matt Gouras in Helena, Mont., contributed to this report.

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