Tag: Iraq

Memorial Day reading: Five stories of American military heroes

Memorial Day reading: Five stories of American military heroes

As a journalist, I’ve reported — often through tears — on too many soldiers who died fighting for their country.

On this Memorial Day, here are five stories (out of many) of American military heroes.

Bobby

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1.

2004 Patriotism, sense of duty bind WWII veteran, Army son killed in Iraq

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Associated Press

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Esequiel Perez never bragged about his service in World War II. If anything, the soft-spoken veteran downplayed his role.

“I didn’t go into too much combat or anything,” the 77-year-old says.

Yet his children – Yolanda, Rosa Anna, Sandra, Joel, Debra, Hector and Zeke – grew up knowing that their father had done his part to defend the world, and why.

In the Perez family, soldiers’ sacrifice was honored and the nation’s freedom celebrated. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July were times for reverence. When the children erected a flag pole in the front yard, Esequiel welcomed it – but warned that the stars and stripes must not ever touch the ground and should be lighted if flown at night.

“That’s how proud my dad is of this country,” said Rosa Anna Garza, 48.

He also wanted an easier life for his children than he had – he still has nightmares involving foxholes, and blames grenades for his hearing problems – so he never pushed them to join the military.

For No. 6 child Hector, though, the Army beckoned.

Read the full story.

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Continue reading “Memorial Day reading: Five stories of American military heroes”

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The long road from Baghdad

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The long road from Baghdad (reporting from Dearborn, Mich.): Wissam Al-Aethawi endeavors to take the Gospel to the epicenter of Arab life in America. 

DEARBORN, Mich. — In the heart of this Detroit suburb, Muslim women who wear hijabs to cover their heads abound.

Signs for Middle Eastern restaurants, halal meat markets and even national chain stores such as Walgreens appear in Arabic and English.

Cedar trees — the national symbol of Lebanon — line the streets.

A century after Henry Ford recruited thousands of Lebanese, Yemeni and other immigrants to work in the auto industry, this Michigan community boasts the largest concentration of people of Arab origin outside the Middle East. They comprise roughly 40,000 of Dearborn’s total population of 100,000.

“I call it the Arab Chinatown,” Christian missionary Wissam Al-Aethawi, 36, says as he drives along Warren Avenue, the city’s business and cultural hub.

Al-Aethawi, a one-time Iraqi soldier and engineer, believes God led him here — to the epicenter of Arab life in America and the home of the largest mosque in North America — to share the hope he found in Jesus.

This former Muslim’s dream: to establish an Arabic-speaking Church of Christ in Dearborn.

This story appears in the October 2015 print edition of The Christian Chronicle.

The war at home: 10 years later, the legacy of 9/11

The war at home: 10 years later, the legacy of 9/11 (reporting from Camp Lejeune, N.C.). Currents.

Finalist (part of three-story portfolio), Magazine News Religion Reporting, Religion News Association

By Bobby Ross Jr. | The Christian Chronicle

CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. – On a Sunday afternoon, the high-pitched chatter of boys and girls playing fills the home of Marine Staff Sgt. Ahmal Coles and his wife, Whitney.

In the living room, the children’s parents and other grownups share Christian fellowship and sing hymns such as “Worthy is the Lamb” and “I Will Call Upon the Lord.”

This weekly small-group meeting brings together military families from the Roosevelt Drive Church of Christ, a 200-member congregation in nearby Jacksonville, N.C., just outside the main gates of this massive Marine Corps base.

The casual gathering — with homemade cookies and iced tea — takes a serious turn when the time comes for prayer requests.

“I would say I’m probably wound up a little tight right now,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Tim Harrison, a Roosevelt Drive member since 2008. “I’ve got a lot of stress because I’m about to leave.”

In about a month, the baby-faced Harrison will kiss the pretty young woman in the breezy red dress — his wife, Lindsay — goodbye and fly off to war.

Again.

Faith sustains battalion commander (reporting from Camp Lejeune, N.C.). Currents.

Even after shooting, Tennessee family counts its blessings. Inside Story.

At some small churches, part-time youth ministers fulfill a calling (reporting from Cheyenne, Wyo.).

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.”

Los Angeles Times: On Father’s Day, a father pines for his favorite son

Los Angeles Times: On Father’s Day, a father pines for his favorite son

World War II veteran couldn’t dissuade him from joining the Army. Last year the staff sergeant went to Iraq.

This story appeared June 20, 2004, on the front page of the Los Angeles Times and in newspapers across the nation.

By Bobby Ross Jr. | Associated Press Writer

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Esequiel Perez never bragged about his service in World War II. If anything, the soft-spoken veteran downplayed his role.

“I didn’t go into too much combat or anything,” says Perez, 77.

Yet his children — Yolanda, Rosa Anna, Sandra, Joel, Debra, Hector and Zeke — grew up knowing that their father had done his part to defend the world, and why.

In the Perez family, soldiers’ sacrifice was honored and the nation’s freedom celebrated. Memorial Day and the Fourth of July were times for reverence. When the children erected a flag pole in the front yard, Esequiel welcomed it — but warned that the Stars and Stripes must not touch the ground and should be illuminated if flown at night.

“That’s how proud my dad is of this country,” said Rosa Anna Garza, 48.

He also wanted an easier life for his children than he had — he still had nightmares involving foxholes and blames grenades for his hearing problems — so he never pushed them to join the military.

For No. 6 child Hector, though, the Army beckoned.

Read the full story.

Soldier’s wife: ‘It was just like he had won the lottery’

SaddamCapture

The Associated Press State & Local Wire

December 15, 2003, Monday, BC cycle

Soldier’s wife: ‘It was just like he had won the lottery’

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 500 words

Usually, when Staff Sgt. Joey Wommack calls his wife from Iraq after a mission, he sounds tired, like he’s about to collapse from exhaustion.

This time, he told her he hadn’t slept in 48 hours, but his voice belied no sign of fatigue.

“It was just like he had won the lottery or something,” Kelly Wommack said Monday in a telephone interview from her Killeen, Texas, home.

Almost.

The Fort Hood soldier, part of the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, had just helped capture Saddam Hussein.

“He said it was just surreal,” Kelly Wommack said. “It wasn’t until the day after that it hit him that, ‘Oh, my God, we got him.”‘

Saturday’s raid by 600 troops from the 4th Infantry Division and Special Forces soldiers targeted two farmhouses in Adwar. At a walled compound nearby, Special Forces pulled Saddam – one of the world’s most-wanted fugitives – out of the narrow hole, a hiding place at a safehouse near one of his former palaces in his hometown of Tikrit.

Joey Wommack got a clear view of the bearded, disheveled Saddam through the scope on his rifle, his wife said.

“I was just ecstatic for him,” she said. “I don’t know how you can top your career (after this). He’s on Cloud Nine.

“He was like, ‘We were just doing our job like we usually do.’ All the times they go out on raids, going from house to house for the longest time looking for things. Now, it’s like, ‘OK, we got him!”‘

Kristi Pak, fiancee of Sgt. Daniel Saffeels, is a Baylor University student from Houston. She was sleeping in Sunday, resting up from final exams, when her telephone rang.

“He was like, ‘Have you seen the news?”‘ said Pak, 20.

After turning on the television, she said, “I was just like, ‘Wow, that’s pretty cool.’ I was like, ‘What’s up with you.’ He was like, ‘I was part of it.’

“I was really in shock. It didn’t really sink in until I got off the phone.”

Pak said her fiance didn’t share a lot of details about the capture, but she could tell it boosted his morale and that of his fellow soldiers.

“The main reason why they went in the first place is to capture Saddam and to stop his loyalists,” she said. “It gives a purpose to why they’re there. … I can’t believe it actually happened, that he finally got captured.”

Maureen Hickey, wife of Col. James Hickey, commander of the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team, said she asked her husband if he knew it was Saddam when they captured him.

“He said, ‘I really had a strong sense it was him; it wasn’t a body double,”‘ Maureen Hickey said in Monday’s Austin American-Statesman. “He just thinks it happened so fast that Saddam didn’t know what hit him.”

When she learned on television that it was her husband’s unit that had seized one of history’s most brutal dictators, Hickey leaped in excitement from the couch at their Fort Hood home, she said.

“You’re always rooting for the home team,” she said, “so you can’t help but be excited and proud that it’s your guys, the 4th Infantry Division.”

 

December 14, 2003, Sunday, BC cycle

Capture ‘a wonderful shock’ to professors headed to Iraq

BYLINE: By BOBBY ROSS JR., Associated Press Writer

SECTION: State and Regional

LENGTH: 550 words

DATELINE: DALLAS

As he prepared early Sunday for an educational mission trip to Iraq, retired Air Force Col. William Mitchell, director of Baylor University’s Center for International Studies, turned on the television in his Waco home.

“And it was all over the place,” Mitchell said a few hours later in an interview from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

“It” was news of Saddam Hussein’s capture.

For Mitchell and more than 20 other Baylor professors who left Sunday on a trip to help improve Iraq’s higher education system, the news was “a wonderful shock,” Mitchell said.

“I know that the people we deal with at the universities, based on what we observed last August, will be exuberant,” said Mitchell, referring to a previous trip related to Baylor’s exchange and cooperation agreement with Bohuk University in northern Iraq. “It’ll be a wonderful, wonderful occasion.”

The professors were to travel from Turkey to northern Iraq, where they planned to put on a three-day workshop for Dohuk faculty members later this week to help them begin rebuilding the higher education system in Iraq.

“Almost every faculty member we talked to in August had been affected by Saddam,” Mitchell said. “Either one of their family members had been assassinated, imprisoned or tortured.

” … Something terrible had happened to at least one family member of every person we talked to. So they hated Saddam Hussein.”

Mark Long, director of Baylor’s Middle East Studies Program and author of the just-finished book “Saddam’s War of Words,” heard the news of the capture on the radio on his way to the airport.

“Then we got to the airport and saw the scenes (on television), just extraordinary scenes,” he said.

The celebrations by the people struck Long, but so did the way Saddam was captured.

The Iraqi dictator had said repeatedly during the Gulf War that he would rather die than be humiliated by the enemy, Long said.

“But when it came right down to it, Saddam was found cowering in a small bunker and he was humiliated,” Long said.

The latest Baylor trip follows the August trip taken by Mitchell, Long and professor Bill Baker, a lecturer in Arabic and Middle East Studies. All three are retired U.S. Air Force officers with extensive experience in Middle East politics, military issues and counterterrorism, university officials said.

Professors from 14 different disciplines joined the latest mission.

Some of the workshops they will conduct include: responsive and targeted engineering, computer science education, teacher training for English, new methodologies in foreign language education, western ideas and culture, basic reporting and editing for the news media, advances in medical and environmental microbiology, molecular biology and biotechnology, contemporary international relations and politics, modern political theory, leadership skills for administrators, social work education and physics.

Mitchell, who served as base commander at Incirlik Air Base in Turkey and as Air Base Group Commander in Izmir, Turkey, during the Gulf War, said he expected to find U.S. soldiers in ecstatic moods.

“When we see the soldiers, there’s going to be a lot of smiling and a lot of hand shaking and a lot of warm exchanges because they have some good news,” he said.