UPDATE: Fathers Of Soldiers Killed In Iraq Hail Sons for Op-Ed

By: Joe Strupp

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.”

Among the statements in the column, published last month, were: “In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear.”

The column drew a strong Pentagon reaction defending the war, but apparently stopped short of punishing the soldiers.

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.”

Christa Mora, the wife of Sgt. Omar Mora, in a statement released by the 82nd Airborne Division, explained that he was highly patriotic but “just wanted people to know his opinion.”

Mora’s mother, Olga Capetillo, said, “I want to know all the details of how he died. I want to know the truth. I don’t understand how so many people could die in that accident. How could it be so bad?”

Robert Capetillo was also interviewed by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. An excerpt from a Thursday article follows.
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Despite her son’s patriotism, Capetillo said Mora seemed to grow disturbed by the poverty and pain afflicting the children in Iraq. He often asked his family to send cookies and candies for the children, said his mother, a beautician.

In April, Mora came home on a two-week leave. His ears were injured by a roadside bomb and a friend lost his arm. In August, another friend died in Mora’s arms.

That death seemed to leave a grim imprint, Capetillo said.

On Friday, an unusually subdued Mora called his mother, and the two spoke for what would be the last time.

“He was so quiet, as if he did not want anyone to hear him,” said Capetillo, as family and friends encircled her in her kitchen.

“I told him that I was counting the days until he would come home, that I would give him a big hug.”
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Related:Deaths of Soldiers ‘Brings It Home’ For ‘NYT’ Editorial Page Editor






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