IRAQ: Out of 4,000, one fallen soldier
The 20-vehicle supply convoy was moving west on the road from Baghdad toward Fallouja. The blast hit one of the trucks, killing a U.S. soldier. His body was out of the cab, lying near the roadway. It was early in the conflict, July 16, 2003, before the insurgency raged. He was among the first couple hundred of the 4,000 U.S. troops who would eventually die in Iraq.
We were driving behind the convoy, keeping our distance, heading toward a military base where I was scheduled to spend the day.
The explosion shook the earth. Traffic came to a halt. I put on my flak jacket and helmet, and slowly approached the attack site.
The soldiers stood guard over their fallen comrade’s body. They stared out toward the desert, breathing heavily in the heat and exhaust, tightly gripping their M-16s.
They were nervous and suspicious of me. They searched me for weapons, and grilled me for a couple minutes. Did I have any identification? Did I see what happened?
But eventually they warmed to the reporter in their midst, comforted by my Midwestern vowels in this strange land.
They said they were reservists from Puerto Rico, had been driving all the way from Kuwait, sleeping little and sustaining themselves on pre-packaged MREs, or meals ready-to-eat.
They told me the fallen soldier’s name was Spec. Ramon Reyes Torres, a native of Caguas, Puerto Rico.
He was 29, had enlisted in the army when he was 19. He was married and had a kid.
Some of Torres’ friends wept. They told me they would miss their pal. "We slept next to each other just last night. He was my best friend," Sgt. Diego Baez said.
After their initial reticence, they became eager to talk, tell me about their fears and their anger. "We need more protection," said Spc. Carlos McKenzie, a member of the convoy. "We've seen enough. We've stayed in Iraq long enough."
The truck burned for more than half an hour. After the attack, troops began house-to-house searches in nearby villages. A Black Hawk helicopter touched down on the highway to evacuate Reyes and remove the wounded. Traffic resumed.
We drove on to our next stop.
— Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photos: From top, the body of a U.S. Army soldier is covered after his convoy came under attack on a highway west of Baghdad on July 16, 2003 (Akram Saleh/Reuters); U.S. Army reserve Spec. Ramon Reyes Torres (U.S. Army); Ada Torres, right, watches her son's July 24, 2003 funeral service in Caguas, Puerto Rico (Herminio J. Rodriguez/Associated Press); Ramon Javier Reyes, 9, touches the U.S. flag that covers the coffin of his father Torres, as his mother Cynthia Reyes holds him (Herminio J. Rodriguez/Associated Press).