Woman who lost father in Iraq loses husband, too

Woman who lost father in Iraq loses husband, too

January 31, 2005 Monday

Woman who lost father in Iraq loses husband, too

BYLINE: BOBBY ROSS JR.; Associated Press Writer

SECTION: DOMESTIC NEWS

LENGTH: 386 words

DATELINE: DALLAS

Less than a year ago, Tabitha Bonilla’s father gave his life for his country in Iraq. On Friday, her husband gave his, too.

Army Capt. Orlando A. Bonilla, 27, of Killeen, Texas, was killed in a helicopter accident in Baghdad, just days after the pilot and his wife had talked about his anticipated return home in early March.

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Army Capt. Orlando A. Bonilla

“He told me he was going to fly a couple more missions before he came home,” Tabitha Bonilla, 23, said Monday night from her mother’s home in Fayetteville, N.C. “I was going to welcome him home, since I didn’t get to welcome my dad home.”

She described her husband as “just a wonderful, kindhearted, caring, gentle person.”

Her mechanic father, Army Sgt. 1st Class Henry A. Bacon, 45, died last February when he was hit by one vehicle while making repairs on another in Dujayl, Iraq. Bacon, who joined the Army in 1982, had delayed his retirement to serve in the war on terrorism, relatives said.

Bacon’s death delayed his son-in-law’s deployment to Iraq, but only for a few months.

“He treated my dad as though he were his dad,” Keith Bacon, 18, said of his brother-in-law. “He wanted to be here for us, but he said he wanted to do his job. … Even though he was going through a troubling time, he was needing to go over there. You know how a military man is.”

Bonilla was one of 18 Texans killed in Iraq in January, exceeding the state’s previous worst toll for a month, when 17 were killed in April 2004. Also, 12 Texans were reported killed from Jan. 24-28, matching the highest one-week casualty rate from April 4-11, 2004.

Bonilla was one of two Fort Hood soldiers to die in Friday’s helicopter crash in Baghdad. The Department of Defense identified the other as Chief Warrant Officer Charles S. Stone, 34, of Lawtey, Fla.

Both were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division.

The Defense Department also said Pfc. Jesus A. Leon-Perez, 20, of Houston was one of five people killed Jan. 24 when their Bradley Fighting Vehicle rolled into a canal during a sandstorm northeast of Baghdad. Leon-Perez was one of three Texans in the vehicle. The others were Sgt. Javier Marin Jr., 29, of Mission, and Pfc. Viktar V. Yolkin, 24, of Spring Branch.

The five soldiers were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry, 1st Infantry Division at Vilseck, Germany.

Lance Cpl. Nazario Serrano, 20, of Irving, died Sunday as a result of hostile action in Al Anbar Province in Iraq, the Defense Department said Monday. The Marine was assigned to the Combat Service Support Battalion 1, Combat Service Support Group 11, 1st Force Service Support Group, I Marine Expeditionary Force of Camp Pendleton, Calf.

Orlando Bonilla was attending the University of Texas at Austin and waiting to get his Army commission when he took a part-time job at a Target store in fall 1999.

That’s where he met his future wife, a fellow Target employee whose father was stationed at Fort Hood.

Bonilla’s “easygoing, sweet, gentlemanly” personality attracted Tabitha Bacon to him, she said. He told her he had decided in high school that he wanted to be an Army pilot. “He liked flying,” she said.

Through tears and long pauses, Orlando Bonilla’s wife _ and Henry Bacon’s daughter _ tried to “do justice,” as she put it, to the two most important men in her life.

“I stand behind my daddy and my husband, and I stand behind the job they had to do, and that’s my take on it,” Tabitha Bonilla said. “I just support them, regardless of who sent them over there and why they sent them over there, no matter whether it’s for right or wrong reasons.”

The Bonillas, who married at Fort Hood, would have celebrated their third wedding anniversary March 16. He would have turned 28 on March 18.

But instead of parties, his widow must now plan a funeral.

“I wanted to show him that I could be strong,” Tabitha Bonilla said, explaining why she did not pressure her husband to stay home. “I told him that my biggest regret would be that if he left too and wouldn’t come back. But I also knew that was his stupid job.

“It’s not stupid,” she added, through her tears, “but … I’m just very hurt.”