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June 18, 2004
Copyright © 2004 PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved. 

As the Casualties Mount, the Nation Questions the Cost

Throughout last week, the nation and world witnessed the flag draped casket of Ronald W. Reagan moving from his library in California, then to the U.S. Capitol, to Washington National Cathedral and finally back to Simi Valley for a sunset burial, every inch of its 6000-mile journey accompanied by a military honor guard and heralded by the thunder of cannon salutes, the strains of ancient hymns and the applause of respectful crowds.

Two days after the nation’s 40th President was laid to rest, a much smaller crowd gathered in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, to honor the occupant of another flag-draped casket, bidding farewell to a soldier recently killed in Iraq, the 18th Puerto Rican member of the U.S. Armed forces to die in the war on terrorism. In a ceremony more subdued than the one in Simi Valley, the remains of Army Sgt. Melvin Mora Lopez, surrounded by distraught family members and friends, was lowered into the earth of the island that welcomed his life twenty-seven years ago.

Sgt. Mora Lopez's death, caused by a mortar round that exploded in his barracks in Taji, Iraq, gained national attention when his life story was featured on "Morning Edition," a popular program of National Public Radio (NPR). In the feature, Sgt. Mora Lopez, lately a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia (UMC), was characterized as an exuberant and friendly man who went out of his way to help others, even at the cost of precious study time needed in pursuit of his rigorous physics curriculum. Fellow students, professors and residents of the apartment building where he lived and worked the reception desk in the evenings, offered glowing opinions of the fallen soldier to the NPR reporter.

Sgt. Mora Lopez was a member of the 245th Maintenance Company, an Army Reserve unit headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, that he joined some five years ago. Reportedly, he joined the Reserves because of his admiration for the military, his sense of patriotism and the need to supplement his income to continue his pursuit of graduate study leading to a career in astronomy. He was mobilized to Iraq four months ago where he was responsible for the maintenance of mechanical equipment at Camp Cook, an old Iraqi airfield some 12 miles outside of Baghdad.

Melvin Mora Lopez came to Missouri as a transfer student from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez (UPRM). His UMC teachers spoke posthumously of him as a hardworking and enthusiastic student, active in the University’s Physics Club. He often expressed the desire to work for NASA after graduation. That federal government agency's staff includes a number of Puerto Ricans, many graduates of UPRM, including the Agency’s chief of the Mars Program, Orlando Figueroa.

His violent death was seen by respondents as a great loss to his University and community. His friends grieved the truncation of a young life that demonstrated such love and held such promise for the future.

The sad scene of Sgt. Mora Lopez's military burial has been repeated so many times over the past months, that Americans are expressing concern about the war’s cost in human terms. The quick removal of Saddam Hussein and the prospect of Iraqis greeting coalition forces as liberators promised by the Bush Administration at the war’s beginning has not been borne out. A CNN and Time magazine poll released at the end of last month reported that 56% of the American public thinks that the war in Iraq is not worth U.S. lives and other costs. Time’s latest edition offers similar results. In a Zogby International poll released this month which evaluated job performance regarding the war, the President’s approval rating fell to 39%, the lowest of his incumbency.

As mourners bid Sgt. Mora Lopez goodbye, there were still 3078 Puerto Rican soldiers serving on active duty, some 800 of them in Iraq. Since October of 2002, when Marine Lance Cpl. Antonio Sledd Figueroa died in an ambush in Kuwait, seventeen other service men – including Mora Lopez – sacrificed their lives in the war on terrorism, fourteen in Iraq and three in Afghanistan. Eight were residents of the island.

At the time of Sgt. Mora Lopez’s death, 951 coalition troops had been killed in Iraq, 835 of them Americans. One U.S. soldier is listed as captured. In addition, since the war’s beginning sixteen months ago, some 2,960 American combat personnel had been wounded. These figures do not include the scores of coalition bureaucrats, civilian contractors, volunteers and members of international organizations who met their deaths at the hands of Iraqi resisters. Equally tragic are the deaths and maiming of thousands of innocent Iraqis who were caught in the middle of firefights or otherwise became statistics under the category known as "collateral damage."

This week the Herald offers its readers the same question put to 1001 adult Americans in the referenced CNN/Time poll.

Do you think that the war in Iraq is worth its cost in lives and other resources?

Please vote above!

This Week's Question:

Do you think that the war in Iraq is worth its cost in lives and other resources?

US . Residents
. PR

61% No

4% Not sure



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