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Families Mourn Loss Of Soldiers In Iraq…U.S. Military's Mission Questioned

Puerto Rico Families Mourn Loss Of Soldiers In Iraq

By Iván Román | Sentinel Staff Writer

July 26, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE ORLANDO SENTINEL. All rights reserved.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- A Puerto Rican soldier died in an accident Thursday in Iraq, just hours before another Puerto Rican reserve soldier killed in a convoy attack there was buried on this Caribbean island.

Military officials said Army Sgt. Juan Manuel Serrano Concepción, 31, was changing a tire on an M998 truck in Baghdad when it fell on him, causing a severe head injury.

He died two hours later in a military hospital.

Serrano, who leaves a wife and two children in his native Manatí on the island's north coast, is the seventh Puerto Rican from the island to die in Iraq.

These and two Puerto Ricans from the U.S. mainland are among 239 U.S. soldiers who have died in combat and in accidents since the beginning of the war in that region in March.

Serrano, who got to Iraq about three months ago, was assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 1st Armored Division in Friedberg, Germany. His wife, Evelyn Serrano, said she had talked to him just the day before the accident.

"He was real happy because they had taken to him a package I had sent with pictures of the kids and some other little things," Evelyn Serrano told WLII, the local Univision station, wiping away tears. "I waited for his call the next day, but I never got it."

The dead soldier was a paramedic and a lifeguard in his hometown. Evelyn Serrano described him as "such a good father and a good husband."

"They were preparing us for this kind of thing, giving us talks and picnics, and you're always afraid, but I never really imagined it was going to happen to us," she told WLII.

Military officials told Evelyn Serrano about her husband's death just hours after friends and relatives of another Puerto Rican soldier, Ramón Reyes Torres, laid him to rest Thursday afternoon in their hometown of Caguas in Puerto Rico's eastern central region.

Reyes Torres, who leaves behind a widow, Cynthia Cintron, and three children, was killed last week when a convoy he was traveling in was attacked and a rocket-propelled grenade threw him out of his truck and onto the pavement.

Once it was known the victim was in the reserves and from the city of Caguas, relatives who kept seeing the horrid images of a covered body on CNN were expecting the worst by the time military officials knocked on their door.

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.

Serrano will be buried in Puerto Rico, but it's uncertain when his remains will arrive.

"Everybody was his friend, and he never had problems with anyone," his brother, Juan Carlos Serrano, told WLII, choking back tears.

"On the contrary, he always helped people and expected nothing in return. We were always together, and he was a good brother, and I hope God has him up there with him right now."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Family Of Soldier Who Died In Iraq Questions U.S. Military's Mission


July 27, 2003
Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Army Sgt. Juan Serrano

MANATI, Puerto Rico (AP) - Family members of a soldier who died this week in an accident while deployed in Iraq mourned their loss Saturday and expressed frustration with the U.S. military's ongoing mission.

Army Sgt. Juan Serrano was killed accidentally Thursday while changing a military Humvee's tire west of Baghdad.

"I am proud to say he died there...that he was doing something, and did not die in vain," said Serrano's wife, Evelyn. The couple has two young sons.

But Serrano's mother, Marta Concepcion, said she doubted anything positive was coming out of the war, "only deaths," and wished the war would end soon.

"(Serrano) called me and said the Iraqi people did not want U.S. soldiers there," she said, while she and other relatives and friends gathered to mourn at Serrano's grandmother's home in north-coast Manati.

Serrano, 31, was the sixth soldier from this Caribbean island to die in the war on Iraq.

There are more than 4,100 Puerto Rican soldiers deployed in the United States war on terrorism - the largest deployment of troops from this U.S. Caribbean territory of 4 million since the Korean War.

Serrano, died from head injuries sustained when a truck fell on his head while he was changing its tire, according to Jose Pagan, a spokesman for Fort Buchanan in suburban San Juan.

Some 53,000 islanders are in the U.S. military, more than half on active duty. But they cannot vote for president and have no vote in Congress. Puerto Ricans were made U.S. citizens in 1917, and 3.4 million of them now live in the mainland United States.

Serrano's family also expressed doubt about the military's story of how Serrano died.

"He was a sergeant, so what was he doing changing a car tire?" asked his grandfather, Vicente Bermudez.

The grandmother Iris Cordova was also dubious: "I don't think it happened quite that way."

President George W. Bush has come under increasing pressure to end the war as the number of deaths among troops increases. Since the official March 19 start of the war on Iraq, 161 U.S. soldiers have died - 14 more than in the 1991 Gulf War.

Additionally, one Puerto Rican soldier was killed this year in Kuwait, and two while serving in Afghanistan.

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