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NPR: Morning Edition
Profile: Death Of Sergeant Melvin Mora
STEVE INSKEEP, host
June 10, 2004
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This week a mortar attack in Iraq killed Melvin Y. Mora, a 27-year-old sergeant with the Army Reserves. Mora was a native of Puerto Rico, one of at least 17 troops killed in Iraq who've been Puerto Ricans or of Puerto Rican descent. Mora was a physics student at the University of Missouri in Columbia, and he was just a few credits away from his bachelor's degree. Catherine Welch of member station KBIA has this remembrance.
CATHERINE WELCH reporting:
A picture of Melvin Yemile(ph) Mora, smiling and clutching a strap on his backpack, is locked in a display case featuring physics students just across the hall from the office of Dorina Kosztin, the director of undergraduate studies for physics at the University of Missouri Columbia. She says Melvin wanted some type of job in outreach, maybe at National Geographic or at a museum where he could show people the beauty of science.
Ms. DORINA KOSZTIN (University of Missouri Columbia): He really wanted to be a spokesperson for publicizing science. He really wanted to bring the science to the people, to make people like science and try to understand it.
WELCH: Kosztin says Melvin was focused on his future, and it was this drive that made him stand out. But for astrophysics Professor Angela Speck, it was Melvin's curiosity that made him a memorable student.
Professor ANGELA SPECK (University of Missouri Columbia): He was someone who would ask me questions in class and not be embarrassed to be wrong.
WELCH: Melvin was scheduled to graduate last month with a bachelor's degree in physics, but the Army Reserve called him up for duty late last year. Speck and other professors worked with Melvin, helping him drop classes he couldn't finish and planning his schedule for when he returned. Professors are now talking about giving him an honorary degree.
(Soundbite of doors closing and footsteps)
WELCH: In the evenings, Melvin manned the front desk at an apartment building where he lived, just a few blocks off campus. Many residents say Melvin almost always had a school book cracked open while he worked. They say he was bubbly, even past midnight, loved to salsa dance, and while he rarely talked about what he did in the Army Reserves, sometimes he showed up in his uniform.
Mr. BUD HAMILTON (Neighbor): I remember running into him. He was wearing his uniform. It added two feet to him. Melvin was very proud to be--just blown away to be able to be a part of something, especially for America.
WELCH: Bud Hamilton lived just around the corner from Melvin on the fourth floor. Hamilton says the one thing he remembers the most about Melvin is his helpfulness, and he recalls a night when a resident locked himself out of his apartment.
Mr. HAMILTON: They both spent, I guess, three hours running all over the place trying to find where to go where the guy might have lost his keys. Doing this out of his own time, you know. He was just--I mean, I was always impressed with the way Melvin was willing to help people out like that.
WELCH: There's a flier taped on the front desk window where Melvin used to sit, asking residents to write letters and remembrances that will be collected and sent to Melvin's parents in Puerto Rico. Sergeant Melvin Yemile Mora was in the 245th Maintenance Company based in St. Louis. For the four months he was in Iraq, he repaired generators out in the field. Melvin was the only casualty in a mortar attack Sunday morning at an Army camp 12 miles outside of Baghdad.
For NPR News, I'm Catherine Welch in Columbia, Missouri.