Two of Seven Soldiers Who Wrote ‘NYT’ Op-Ed Die in Iraq

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By: Greg Mitchell

The Op-Ed by seven active duty U.S. soldiers in Iraq questioning the war drew international attention just three weeks ago. Now two of the seven are dead.

Sgt. Omar Mora and Sgt. Yance T. Gray died Monday in a vehicle accident in western Baghdad, two of seven U.S. troops killed in the incident which was reported just as Gen. David Petraeus was about to report to Congress on progress in the “surge.” The names have just been released.

Gen. Petraeus was questioned about the message of the op-ed in testimony before a Senate committee yesterday.

The controversial Times column on Aug. 19 was called “The War As We Saw It,” and expressed skepticism about American gains in Iraq. ?To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched,? the group wrote.

It closed: “We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.”

Mora, 28, hailed from Texas City, Texas, and was a native of Ecuador, who had just become a U.S. citizen. He was due to leave Iraq in November and leaves behind a wife and daughter. Gray, 26, had lived in Ismay, Montana, and is also survived by a wife and infant daughter.

The accident in Iraq occurred when a cargo truck the men were riding in overturned.

The Daily News in Galveston interviewed Mora’s mother, who confirmed his death and that he was one of the co-authors of the Times piece. The article today relates: “Olga Capetillo said that by the time Mora submitted the editorial, he had grown increasingly depressed. ‘I told him God is going to take care of him and take him home,’ she said. ‘But yesterday is the darkest day for me.’?

One of the other five authors of the Times piece, Staff Sergeant Jeremy Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head while the article was being written. He was expected to survive after being flown to a military hospital in the United States.

During the grilling of Gen. Petraeus on Tuesday, Sen. Barbara Boxer read from the Op-Ed and Sen. Chuck Hagel said, “By the way, I assume you read The New York Times piece two weeks ago — seven NCOs in Iraq, today, finishing up 15-month commitments. Are we going to dismiss those seven NCOs? Are they ignorant? They laid out a pretty different scenario, general, ambassador, from what you’re laying out today.”

Joe Strupp of E&P spoke with the fathers of the two deceased soldiers today and filed the following report.

Robert Capetillo never read the controversial column his son, Omar Mora, co-wrote with six other Iraq-based soldiers for The New York Times. But when he heard about it, he had only high praise.

“Everybody has a right to speak out,” Capetillo told E&P Wednesday, just two days after Mora, an Army sergeant, and fellow column-writer Yance Gray, were killed in Baghdad. “We all have a right to speak out what we feel. There are personal feelings, that is a right here we all have.”

Richard Gray, father of Yance Gray, offered similar views on his son’s part in the column. “I thought it was well-written and there wasn’t anything in it I disagreed with, with that situation over there,” he said via phone from his Montana home. “He said once that they need to divide the country up into three different countries to make things work.”

Capetillo, of Texas City, Tex., said Mora was one of three sons who he taught to speak their minds. He said he joined the Army in 2004 knowing he might be sent to Iraq to fight in the war.

“He was very supportive, that is why he went in,” Capetillo said, adding that he was based at Fort Bragg, N.C. “He didn?t know for sure, but these days, you know when you join you will probably go over.”

Gray was not surprised when he heard about his son’s involvement in the column. “He thought for himself. He wouldn?t just go along. The military was something he wanted to do, but he would not follow something blindly. He was taught to think for himself.”

He said his wife had last spoken to their son a week ago, and had also recently received an e-mail. “He didn?t agree with all of the politics, but he would do his job and do his best,” the elder Gray said. “He wasn’t against what they were doing, but against some of the policies. You get a lot of people trying to do politics. If you are going to use the military, let the military do their jobs.”

An Army veteran since he joined in 2000, Gray had also served in Afghanistan, his father said, noting he had re-enlisted for the second time just three months ago

“He was not in any way anti-military,” Gray said. “But he wasn’t somebody to follow along blindly.”


Related:Deaths of Soldiers ‘Brings It Home’ For ‘NYT’ Editorial Page Editor

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