Second soldier from Valley dies in as many weeks
ALAMO — Another Rio Grande Valley family is mourning the loss of a loved one in an overseas war.
U.S. Army Sgt. Fernando De La Rosa, 24, of Alamo, was killed by a roadside bomb at 10:43 a.m. Tuesday in Afghanistan, his mother, Rosa De La Rosa, said Wednesday.
Military personnel visited her Tuesday night and informed her of the death of her son, with whom she had last spoken two weeks ago.
One of the military representatives indicated final confirmation of the death was still pending, because Sgt. De La Rosa was not wearing his dog tags at the time of the attack, his mother said.
"They need to do DNA tests" she said. "But in the roster, it was said that he was in that Humvee" that was hit by the bomb.
The news did not come as a surprise to her, she said. She had sensed a foreboding heaviness in her son during their conversations and in their correspondence.
"He was sad," she said. "I think already he kind of like knew, because in the other times he was out there — he had been in Iraq for the last two tours — he would call and he was OK. But this time that he was in Afghanistan, he sounded a little bit different — he sounded a little more sadder."
"He was happier in other times," added his mother, an Hidalgo County Head Start employee. "It sounded like he wanted to tell me something but he didn’t. And his letters, in the first one he sent me, he said that ‘There were a lot of things I wanted to tell you but I don’t want to do it,’ and he did not."
Sgt. De La Rosa described his latest tour on his Facebook page this month, calling it a "crazy couple of months" and noting that access to phones and Internet was limited.
"Some bad things but we’re all helping each other through them," he wrote in a post on Oct. 4. "Thanks for all the prayers. We all love you and hope to see you soon. Internet and phones isn’t easy to come by but we’ll try to keep in touch as much as we can."
Sgt. De La Rosa also had a MySpace page that he apparently last logged in to on Oct. 24, three days prior to his death.
The Army offered to fly Rosa De La Rosa to Delaware to observe the arrival from Afghanistan of the coffin containing what military officials believe are her son’s remains, but she declined the offer.
"I was not going to be able to touch the coffin," the mother said. "They were going to let me see the casket get off from the plane and into the building. There is no reason for me to go, so I will just wait for him to come home."
Military representatives told her the DNA test would take 10-15 days, she said. Once he is positively identified, his remains will be sent to the Valley, where he will be buried.
Sgt. De La Rosa is survived by his mother and his father, Rolando De La Rosa, and four younger siblings: Rolando, Alfredo, Rogelio and Rayven, all of Alamo. Alfredo is also in the Army and is stationed in Korea.
Also surviving Sgt. De La Rosa are his wife, Karen, and two sons: 4-year-old Fernando and 10-month-old Juan Carlos. They are living in Washington state and are expected to attend the funeral in the Valley prior to flying to Peru, where she is from.
Born in McAllen on June 21, 1985, Sgt. De La Rosa was a team leader in Company C, 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, stationed in Fort Lewis, in Tacoma, Wash.
He picked Fort Lewis as his station after serving six years in Germany, his mother said.
An official at Ft. Lewis said he had not received information about the sergeant’s death but added that it is U.S. Department of Defense policy not to release any casualty information until 24 hours after the notification of the victim’s family.
Sgt. De La Rosa had planned to serve the Army for 10 years and then retire, his mother said.
"He was crazy, very lovable, outgoing, mischievous," she said.
"He liked girls, a lot of girls," she added. But she noted that he was raised Catholic and that he became very spiritual after he joined the Army.
Sgt. De La Rosa graduated in 2003 from Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Memorial High School and immediately enlisted in the Army, his mother said. He was a good student, played sports and preferred vegetables rather than meat.
"He was always looking after his weight," his mother said as she sat outside her Alamo home holding a photo of her son.
Immediately after hearing the news of his death Tuesday, Alamo Mayor Rudy Villarreal ordered that all flags in the city be lowered to half-staff in memory of the fallen soldier. The young man’s death marked the first time someone from Alamo has died in military combat since World War II, the mayor said.
Sgt. De La Rosa is the third Valley service member to be killed in Afghanistan and the 29th to be killed in the ongoing wars there and in Iraq.
He is also the second Valley service member to be killed in as many weeks. Army Staff Sgt. Bradley Espinoza, 26, was killed by an improvised bomb in Iraq on Oct. 19. His funeral is at 11 a.m. today at San Martin de Porres Catholic Church in Alton.
Prior to his death, the latest Valley soldier to die in the ongoing wars in the Middle East was a Mission High School graduate who served as an explosives expert with the Army. Spc. Alex Gonzalez, 21, of Mission, was killed in May 2008 when insurgents fired upon his patrol vehicle, family members told The Monitor.
A total of 4,354 U.S. military personnel have died in Operation Iraqi Freedom since that campaign began in March 2003, according to the latest casualty report from the Pentagon, updated at 9 a.m. Wednesday. Of those, 3,475 were killed in action.
Another 815 U.S. military personnel have died in and around Afghanistan — including in Pakistan and Uzbekistan — since Operation Enduring Freedom began eight years ago this month, according to the latest Pentagon count. A total of 632 of those were combat deaths.
Eight U.S. service members and an Afghan civilian working with NATO’s International Security Assistance Force were killed Tuesday in multiple complex improvised bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan, ISAF announced in a news release Tuesday.
Sgt. De La Rosa appears to have been one of those eight.
"A loss like this is extremely difficult for the families as well as for those who served alongside these brave service members," Navy Capt. Jane Campbell, an ISAF Joint Command spokeswoman, said in the news release. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families and friends who mourn their loss."
Sgt. De La Rosa’s family has been told his remains will arrive in the Valley in 10-15 days. Meanwhile, they are waiting for veterans group the Last Patrol to install a U.S. flag in the front yard of their home on Citrus Street in Alamo.
Rosa De La Rosa was remarkably serene Wednesday as she spoke with The Monitor.
"Como yo le digo a mis (Like I tell my) friends, ‘Your life is written in a book. There is nothing you can do: No matter how much you protect your kids, you are going to die, regardless.’"
Later, though, the bereaved mother suddenly burst into tears as she recalled the reason her son was fighting in a faraway war.
"He told me he was the only one who could defend his friends and family, and that is why he kept joining," she said.
Her voice broke as she repeated his words to her:
"Mom, I feel that I am the only one that can defend you all."