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Families: Military confirms soldiers’ identities

Relatives of Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker said Thursday the military confirmed the mutilated bodies it found in Iraq belonged to the slain soldiers.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Relatives of two soldiers who disappeared in Iraq during an insurgent attack comforted each other Thursday after the military confirmed two brutalized bodies found this week were the missing men.

The bodies of Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca of Houston and Pfc. Thomas Tucker of Madras, Ore., were sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for DNA testing.

“They have confirmed that it is Kristian,” his aunt, Hermelinda Gomez, said before returning inside the house where relatives gathered to comfort the soldier’s mother, Maria Vasquez.

In Oregon, the phone rang with the news at 1:30 a.m., Oregon National Guard spokeswoman Kay Fristad said.

“It’s been extremely difficult throughout,” Fristad said. “There was always a shred of hope there.”

‘We’re mad at the Army’
One and possibly both young men were tortured and beheaded, a U.S. military official said. The military did not confirm whether the soldiers died from wounds suffered in the attack Friday or were kidnapped and later killed.

The Army said that Menchaca, Tucker and Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., were left alone while other vehicles in their patrol inspected traffic, contradicting earlier reports that the three Humvees became separated under fire. Babineau was killed in the initial attack.

Julieta Vasquez, Menchaca’s aunt, said the family was angry that the men had been left alone by their colleagues.

“We’re mad at the Army,” she said. “My nephew and the other soldier, they were alone.”

Expecting the worst
Felipa Gomez, Menchaca’s 16-year-old cousin, said the body was expected home within a few days, and that Menchaca’s wife, 18-year-old Christina Menchaca, of Big Spring, would attend the funeral planned in Brownsville.

Menchaca’s close-knit Mexican-American family described him as a sweet, quiet young man who joined the military last year and deployed to Iraq within months.

Tucker had graduated from high school in 1999 and worked a variety of construction jobs before he decided to join the Army last summer. His friends said he liked to angle for catfish in the Prineville Reservoir and hunt deer in the Ochoco Mountains.

The three men were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.

‘Barbaric’ murder
The U.S. military recovered the bodies in an area it said was rigged with explosives. An Iraqi official said the Americans were tortured and killed in a “barbaric” way.

The insurgent group claimed the new leader of al-Qaida in Iraq executed the men personally, but offered no evidence. The U.S. military did not confirm whether the soldiers died from wounds suffered the attack Friday or later killed.