Two sergeants who helped write a New York Times op-ed article sharply critical of the Pentagon's assessment of the Iraq war were killed in a Baghdad crash this week, and one grieving mother wants the Army to explain their deaths.
"I want to know all the details of how he died. I want to know the truth," said Olga Capetillo, whose 28-year-old son, Sgt. Omar Mora, died Monday along with six other soldiers and two detainees. "I don't understand how so many people could die in that accident. How could it be so bad?"
Mora and co-author Sgt. Yance T. Gray, 26, of Ismay, Mont., died Monday when their truck veered off an elevated highway in western Baghdad and fell about 30 feet, the military said. The single-vehicle crash also wounded 11 other soldiers and a detainee.
The military made no mention of hostile fire. A call to an Army spokesman seeking comment Wednesday was not immediately returned.
U.S. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., also said he was asking the military for details of Gray's death.
Since writing the critical Aug. 19 article with six other active duty U.S. soldiers, she said Mora had seemed increasingly depressed and withdrawn.
"I said to him: 'Son, I don't want you to have problems because of this. Hopefully, nothing will happen,'" said a grief-stricken Capetillo, speaking in Spanish.
Details of op-ed
The Times piece, called "The War As We Saw It," expressed doubts 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.
In the last line, the authors reaffirmed their commitment: "We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through."
Another co-author, Staff Sgt. Jeremy Murphy, was shot in the head Aug. 12 while the op-ed was being written. The Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader was flown to a military hospital in the United States and expected to survive.
Mora and Gray, members of the 82nd Airborne Division, joined the military out of a sense of duty and selflessness, people who knew them said. Both were married and leave behind young daughters.
Mora, a permanent legal resident, received his citizenship papers two weeks ago and was waiting to take the oath as a U.S. citizen when his deployment ended in November.
"My son gave his life for this country. He was proud of this country, even though he was not an American yet," said Capetillo, who emigrated from Ecuador when Mora was 2.
Mother, son speak for last time
Yet Capetillo said Mora seemed to grow disturbed by the poverty and pain afflicting Iraqi children and often asked his family to send cookies and candies for the youngsters.
In April, he came home for two weeks to recover after his ears were damaged by a roadside bomb. Then in August, a friend died in Mora's arms, leaving a grim imprint, Capetillo said. An unusually subdued Mora had called his mother Friday, 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 Texas City kitchen. "I told him that I was counting the days until he would come home, that I would give him a big hug."
Mora told his mother that he was very tired.
"Maybe he had a premonition that something was going to happen to him, that he was not going to come back," said Capetillo, as tears moistened her face. "My son escaped death two times before. But this time, no."
Soldier felt strongly about Army
Gray, who grew up on a ranch outside the town of 25 residents, graduated with a class of just 18 from Plevna High School. He and four fellow students joined the military, and news of his death spread quickly, school secretary Lynette O'Connor said.
Gray's relatives said the he felt so strongly about the Army that he re-enlisted two or three years ago. He loved being in uniform, and they said writing the op-ed piece must have been a difficult decision.
"I thought it was pretty brave of them to do that," said Marge Griebel, who is married to Gray's grandfather. "It is good that some of us people back here can hear some of those things. They must have put a lot of thought and time into that letter before they put it out."
Griebel called Gray a hero and said the family was grief-stricken.
"It was something they knew could happen, but they just kept praying that it won't," she said.