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Associated Press

National Guard Buries First Casualty Since Korean War

By Frank Griffiths of Associated Press

July 5, 2003
Copyright © 2003
Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

BAYAMON - The Puerto Rico National Guard buried its first combat casualty since the Korean War on Saturday as hundreds of mourners from police officers to a motorcycle gang paid last respects at the U.S. territory's national cemetery.

Spc. Richard P. Orengo, 32, of Toa Alta, died in a gun battle while investigating a car theft on June 26 in An Najaf, Iraq, about 100 miles southwest of Baghdad.

Orengo was kneeling returning fire, when an enemy bullet ricocheted and struck him in the neck, Brig. Gen. Francisco Marquez said. He was decorated with a purple heart and a bronze star for heroism.

"I wish this were a nightmare," Marquez said in his eulogy.

"We'll continue fighting for what you did - dignity and justice - so people will be free from terrorism. Thank you Ricky," Marquez said as two of Orengo's sons - ages 7 and 8 - looked up with teary eyes at a white dove fluttering at the cemetery's outdoor chapel pavilion.

Orengo joined the National Guard in 1990 and served in Kosovo in a peacekeeping mission.

In civilian life, Orengo was a motorcycle police officer since 1996 in Bayamon. A squadron of about 60 police motorcycles led Orengo's hearse in humming formation to the Puerto Rico National Cemetery in Bayamon.

Orengo also belonged to a motorcycle club called "The Moths," which is comprised mostly of older people and has an 87-year-old man among its ranks, Maj. Millie Rosa said. "Orengo was one of the youngest members," she said. "He loved motorcycles."

The National Guard and police fired two 21-gun salutes, and a soldier and policeman played Taps on two trumpets.

"His body is here but his soul is with God," said his widow Carmen Berrios Rodriguez, who was standing over Orengo's coffin while a military officer fanned her with a piece of paper in the midmorning heat.

Berrios and the two sons kissed Orengo's coffin after Marquez presented her with a folded U.S. flag. The general also presented his father, Teodoro Orengo, with a flag.

Orengo, who was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, had been assigned to the 755th Military Police Company in north-coast Arecibo. He was sent to Iraq with about 120 soldiers from the unit in May.

Spc. Gabriel Gonzalez, 22, of Orengo's unit, flew in from Iraq to attend the funeral. Gonzalez met Orengo in 1999 when he enlisted in the National Guard and Orengo served as best man at his wedding.

"It's a combat zone," Gonzalez said when asked about Iraq, where he has to return early this coming week.

At least 27 U.S. troops have been killed in hostile fire since major combat was officially declared over May 1.

Orengo was the third Puerto Rican to be killed in the war on Iraq. He leaves behind two other children, a 2-year-old son and an 18-year-old adopted son.

The military has deployed more than 5,400 Puerto Ricans in its campaigns abroad _ the largest deployment from the U.S. Caribbean territory of 4 million since the Korean War.

There are more than 53,000 Puerto Ricans in the U.S. armed forces, almost half of whom are on active duty, according to the Pentagon.

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