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Cpl. Rodriguez, Fallen B'klyn Marine Buried… Sgt. Morales’ Pals Lend Support At Funeral Even As Teen Artist, Army Spec. Mercado Confronted Evil

Fallen B'klyn Marine Buried

By Merle English

April 11, 2003
Copyright © 2003 Newsday, Inc. All rights reserved.

Buffeted by a cold wind and steady rain, a marine color guard stood at attention outside Blessed Sacrament Church in Cypress Hills Friday as the church bells tolled, signaling the start of a funeral mass for one of their comrades, Marine Cpl. Robert Rodriguez.

Rodgriguez, 21, died in the line of duty last month in Iraq while loading ammunition inside a tanker that overturned into the Euphrates River.

"He was a son of Puerto Rico, a son of Brooklyn and Queens and a son of the United States," the Rev. Thomas Brosnan, pastor of the Brooklyn church, eulogized the zealously patriotic young man whose dream was fulfilled when he became a Marine.

Brosnan called him "a noble hero."

A contingent of Marines, police officers, firefighters and veterans withstood the elements to pay their respects to Rodriguez.

Students at the church school across the street had laced yellow, red, white and blue ribbons into teh school fence. A banner in patriotic colors hung in a second floor window read: Our Hero, Cpl. Rodriguez."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, bareheaded but wearing a raincoat, joined the long line of color guard units shortly before the hearse bearing Rodriguez's body arrived.

Eight Marines carried the flag-draped coffin up the steps and into the sanctuary where Rodriguez and his family worshipped.

Huddled under umbrellas, the family members followed, some weeping quietly and comforting one another.

Conducting the service in English and Spanish, Brosnan told about 600 mourners that after getting his GED, Rodriguez "wanted to do something of service to others. Let's hope that we too can imitate the decision Robert made in his young life. He made that choice to serve," he said, and did it to his fullest capacity. Everyone could be "proud of his sacrifice," Brosnan said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered condolences on behalf of all New Yorkers. He addressed the Marine's parents, Amarilys (whose maiden name her soon took), and Clemente Hernandez, by their names.

"This week all of us were gratified by TV images of citizens of Baghdad celebrating victory," Bloomberg said. "Today the joy is tempered by the loss of this courageous young man." But he said sorrow was mixed with pride.

"Freedom and security are precious and comes at a price," said the mayor. "Rodriguez was willing to pay that price. He fell in battle..."

A choir of 4th and 5th graders from Blessed Sacrament School sang a moving rendition of "God Bless America," bringing some in the pews to their feet.

An older student, Daniel Lanfranco, 13, who was among the altar servers, commented later that "It would be an honor to serve like Rodriguez. That's like my model right there," he said.

Leslie Corona 11, a sixth grader, said, "It's good to know he actually achieved his dream."

Exemplifying the brotherhood of Marines, Steve Adams, a paralegal from Woodhaven and former Marine, took off his black slicker and cap, leaving himself unprotected from the rain as he watched the color guard from a sidewalk.

"When one Marine dies, a part of all Marines dies with that Marine," he said. "Even though I didn't know Cpl. Rodriguez, my obligaton was to come and grieve with his family."

For Nicholas Wood, 12, who attended the mass, the rain was symbolic. He called it "tears from God and the angels for their new angel, Cpl. Rodriguez."

Soldier’s Pals Lend Support At Funeral

By Rafael A. Olmeda

April 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003 South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All rights reserved.

Killed in action (Staff photo/Angel Valentin)

Before he left for Afghanistan, Army Sgt. Orlando Morales told his wife he would make it home safely.

Away from her ears, he told the other soldiers in his unit to take care of her if he couldn't fulfill his promise.

As Morales was laid to rest in South Florida on Saturday, his brothers-in-arms united with his relatives to bid him a tearful farewell.

They gathered first at Mother of Our Redeemer Catholic Church in Miami-Dade County, the same church where Morales exchanged wedding vows with Roxana, his wife, a South Florida native.

The Rev. Fernando Compaired, the same priest who officiated at the wedding, struggled to put the death of Morales into a context that would comfort the 250 grieving friends and family.

"At this moment it is natural for us to ask, why? Why me? Why us? Why Orlando?" In Spanish, he answered those questions by summoning the faith of the mourners, urging them to recognize that Morales' death was in service to a greater cause, a sacrifice he compared to the sufferings of Jesus. "He was also very young when he died," Compaired said.

The body of Morales lay in a flag-draped casket in front of the church, standing close to the same spot he stood as a groom just a few years ago.

His wife and their 18-month-old daughter, Angelina Maria, sat in the first row of pews to the priest's left. Joining them were Morales' mother and two sisters, who came from their homes in Puerto Rico and Pennsylvania.

To the priest's right sat the soldiers who served with Morales. Six of them escorted the casket from the hearse to the altar, and back after the ceremony was over. In dress uniform, they managed to contain their grief, refusing to lose their composure when so many looked to them for strength.

Family members could not hold back their tears, and Compaired reassured them that their show of emotion was justified.

"You have every right to mourn," he said.

Chanel Prada, sister-in-law to Roxana Morales, praised the Army for its show of comfort and support in the days since Morales died on March 29. He was caught in an ambush in Geresk, Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.

Before he was shipped out to serve in Operation Enduring Freedom, he lived in Fort Bragg, N.C., with his wife. It was there that he told her he would be OK, said Prada. Yet he was fatally wounded only days before his scheduled homecoming.

"He really wanted her to feel better," Prada said. "But they also know the dangers that they face, and when he was with his unit, he told them, `If I don't come back, take care of her.'"

They've lived up to the request, Prada said outside the church, as mourners prepared to follow the casket to Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale.

Standing a few feet away were other mourners who had trouble maintaining their composure. They were four women who wore T-shirts emblazoned with the photographs of their enlisted children. "My Pride and Joy" was written on each shirt.

The women were part of "Amor y Libertad," a Hialeah-based support group of mothers with children stationed overseas.

"I don't even know exactly where they are," said Regla Aguinagalde, whose shirt had four pictures on it. "I just know they're somewhere in the Middle East. But I pray for them to come home."

Aguinagalde said she did not know Morales or his family, but the four members of their group (which translates to "Love and Freedom") wanted to show their solidarity with those who send their sons and daughters to serve in the military.

Even As Teen Artist, Army Spec. Mercado Confronted Evil

By Ofelia Casillas, Tribune staff reporter.

15 April 2003

Chicago Tribune

Copyright 2003, Chicago Tribune. All Rights Reserved.

In the Puerto Rican supermarket mural that Army Spec. Gil Mercado painted as a teenager, the nameless hero was part man-part robot and defeated evil.

Mercado, 25, of Paterson, N.J., died doing the same for his country, his family said Monday.

He was killed Sunday by a non-combat weapon discharge in Iraq, the Pentagon said. He was assigned to the Army's 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment, based at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Described as handsome and tall with green eyes, Mercado was also creative and playful, his family said.

Despite urging from those around him, Mercado hesitated to publish his comic books or drawings, said his brother-in-law William Rosa.

"For him it was not a matter of getting any type of recognition. It was just something to satisfy himself, to speak for him more than anything else," Rosa said.

Mercado's sister, Rosa, remembered her brother as a comedian.

She recalled him as a 7-year-old, putting on a wolf mask, squatting like a dog and howling at the moon one Halloween, scaring people. Gil Mercado also liked boxing and martial arts, his sister said.

"He would take off the camiseta [Spanish for shirt] he was wearing to give it to you," William Rosa said.

Grew up in Puerto Rico

Mercado was born in Hoboken, N.J., in 1977. As a teenager, he lived in Puerto Rico, where he grew up skateboarding and fishing, his family said.

He then moved to Paterson, met his wife, and about 6 years ago told his family that he was going into the Army. His decision met with disapproval, and his family reminded him of his many other options.

Mercado must have thought he needed to do something more meaningful with the rest of his life, his brother-in-law said.

Rosa Mercado spoke with her brother in March before he was sent to Iraq. He said goodbye to relatives in case he didn't make it home.

"He wanted to make sure we knew how he felt about us," said his sister. "... I'm just so proud of him being where he wanted to be, doing what he wanted to do."

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