Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Army Sgt. Ralph Mena

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Ralph Mena, 27, of Hutchinson, Kan.

Sgt. Mena was assigned to 72nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 7th Signal Brigade, 5th Signal Command, Mannheim, Germany; died May 4, 2010 of injuries sustained from a noncombat-related incident in Tikrit, Iraq.

Former Hutchinson High School student Ralph Mena Jr., who joined the U.S. Army while still in his teens and exchanged wedding vows only this year, died May 4 in Tikrit, Iraq, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.

Sgt. Mena, 27, died of injuries sustained from a non-combat-related incident, according to the announcement. He was assigned to the 72nd Expeditionary Signal Battalion, 7th Signal Brigade, 5th Signal Command, in Mannheim, Germany. Press inquiries were directed to Germany. No one was available in that office Wednesday afternoon.

"He was bad and ornery and the Army kind of changed him to grow up and be what he was," said Mena's sister, Jennifer Hall.

On Hall's wall hung a framed picture of her "baby brother" in his camouflage Army uniform, a photo taken "right out of basic training," she said.

Ralph Mena had been to Iraq on a previous tour and he wanted to go back, Hall said. A better assignment - Hawaii - was supposed to be ahead, she had heard.

Amber Mena, the new bride and now widow, lives and works in Hutchinson, and was going to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to meet the returning body, according to Linda Hippen, an aunt to Sgt. Mena. Elliott Mortuary, Hutchinson, will be in charge of arrangements here, but no plans had been made as of Wednesday.

Mena attended Hutchinson High School. An old Allagaroo yearbook shows he played on the 1997 freshman football team that posted a 1-7 win-loss record. He didn't graduate from Hutchinson High, but enlisted in the Army.

Mena's father, Ralph Mena Sr., who died in 2002, was a U.S. Navy veteran of the Vietnam War. The father had talked to the son about the military, and the younger Mena decided that's what he wanted to do with his life, said Hippen, who lives in Hutchinson, and referred to her nephew as "Ralphie."

After enlisting, Sgt. Mena went to Fort Benning, Ga., Fort Hood, Texas, and later Germany, recalled Hall.

Hippen remembers a nephew who was "a really good kid" and enjoyed being with the family, and that included various cousins. Hippen's daughter, Maria Pearman, also went back to Dover Air Force Base.

"He liked to run around with his cousins," said Mena's grandmother, Margaret Ewing, who, along with her husband, Jim Ewing, lives in Hutchinson.

Sgt. Mena married earlier this year, going to Florida to wed and take a cruise, family members said. "They had a really nice time," said Hippen.

He was married in February and he returned to Iraq at the end of that month, said Hall, who saw her brother the day before he left.

"I said I'd see him the next time around. I just didn't think it would be like this," Hall said.

Hutchinson, KS:
A local community is mourning the death of a soldier. 27-year-old Sgt. Ralph Mena of Hutchinson died Tuesday while supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom, leaving behind friends and family who say he'll be sorely missed.

"When he left he took a piece of a lot of people with him," said Mena's friend, Harvey Barker.

Those who knew and love Mena call him one of the best people they've ever known.

"Ralph was, he'd give you the shirt off his back," said Barker.

"He was loved by everybody that knew him. He was an amazing husband and father and soldier, and he died serving our country. And that's honorable," said Mena's widow, Amber Mena.

Sgt. Mena died in Tikrit, Iraq from non-combat related injuries. His death left his friends and family shocked and devastated.

"I'm still standing here today kind of like it's unreal... still waiting to get that phone call to say they made a mistake," said Mena's friend Tim Robertson.

Those who knew him say they'll remember him for his magnetic personality, his sense of humor, and most of all, his laugh.

"His laugh, honestly I wish you guys could hear his laugh," said Robertson.

"It didn't matter what was going on in his life, he always smiled. And that was something you could always rely on was Ralph's smile," said Barker.

Those close to Ralph Mena call him a loyal friend, and a man dedicated to his country and his family.

"He was all about family and all about friends. And if you were one of Ralph's friends, essentially you were his family," said Barker.

Now the friends and family he left behind, say they'll always remember and respect the man they lovingly called "Ralphie."

"We'll always love him, there's no doubt about that," said Barker.

"I'll love him for always, and I know that everybody that he's ever touched their lives, they're going to miss him too," said Amber Mena.

Army Sgt. Ralph Mena was killed in a non-combat related incident on 5/4/10.

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