Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas
Pfc. Menchaca was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; He was manning a checkpoint when they came under enemy small arms fire. He was taken from the checkpoint and slain on June 16, 2006. Taken with him was Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore.
Star-Telegram -- HOUSTON - Family and friends of two missing American soldiers whose bodies were believed to have been recovered in Iraq wanted people to remember how their loved ones lived, not how they died.
The bodies of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Ore., were found late Monday near Youssifiyah, where the soldiers disappeared Friday during an attack on a checkpoint. A third soldier, Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., died in the attack.
An Iraqi defense ministry official said the bodies of Menchaca and Tucker showed signs of being tortured and the men were "killed in a barbaric way." Al-Qaida in Iraq suggested in an unauthenticated Web statement the men were beheaded.
Mario Vasquez, Menchaca's uncle, said he didn't want his nephew's death to be meaningless and he wanted justice for him.
"He was fighting for this country. I don't want people to forget it was just two more soldiers that were killed and that was it," he said. "Kids are fighting for this country. They're out there trying to save our lives. A lot of people take that for granted."
Menchaca's mother, Maria Vasquez, answered her door in Brownsville early Tuesday sobbing and unable to speak. She later issued a statement written in Spanish that said, "I am against the war and I feel very hurt by what has happened to my son."
In Oregon, Tucker's family grieved in private, saying in a statement they were devastated by the news, but were heartened by the community support.
"Tom has gained a much larger family through this ordeal than he had when he left home to go help to free the Iraqi people and protect his country from the threat of terrorism," the family said.
Menchaca grew up in a close-knit extended Mexican-American family in Houston. His uncle and cousins remembered a sweet, quiet young man who was proud to be in the military and later wanted to join the U.S. Border Patrol.
"He talked about how happy he was that he was serving his country," said Sylvia Grice, 37, Menchaca's cousin.
Relatives said he married his wife, 18-year-old Christina Menchaca, of Big Spring, a few weeks before being deployed to Iraq. Christina Menchaca has declined to speak to reporters.
"Everyone he met liked him. He had that kind of personality," Grice said. "He liked to help people. He was just the kind of person you enjoyed being with."
Mario Vasquez said his nephew had been interested in the military since he was a young boy.
His Houston family last saw Menchaca in May, when he was on leave. Menchaca enrolled in the Army in middle to late 2005, his uncle said.
"I remember seeing him and giving him a lot of money and telling him go enjoy himself," Grice said. "He didn't want to take it. But I still stuck it in his pocket and told him to go out and have fun."
Mario Vasquez said Menchaca and his cousins were very close and he spent much of his childhood visiting and staying in their home. Menchaca's mother eventually moved from another part of town with her two sons to a duplex a few blocks away. She had moved to Brownsville recently.
Menchaca had hoped to join the U.S. Border Patrol after the military, Mario Vasquez said.
Tucker graduated from high school in 1999 and worked a variety of construction jobs before he decided to join the Army last summer. He seemed to have found something of what he was looking for, said Tim McDonald, who co-owns McDonald Development of Redmond, where Tucker worked as a framer.
"He said he liked it, and it was working out for him," McDonald said.
Josh Tolman, who went to high school with Tucker, said the two of them would fish the Prineville Reservoir, going for catfish, and in fall would head into the Ochoco Mountains to hunt deer and elk with their families.
"We helped each other work on (our trucks), then go play with them in the woods," Tolman said.
In Iraq, Tucker kept in touch with friends via e-mail and telephone. Although he tried to keep them from worrying, Margee Hagedorn, Tucker's friend since middle school, said he did share some troubling stories, such as when the Humvee in front of his was hit by a roadside bomb.
Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca was killed in action on 06/16/06.
Note: I mean no disrespect to either Pfc. Menchaca or Pfc. Tucker by joining them together on these pages. They were together in service, together in death, and together forever in our memories. We will never think of the one without thinking of the other.
May God grant special blessings on these two Angels.