Saturday, March 03, 2007

Pedro Colon remembered

Army Sgt. Pedro Jesus Colon, the soldier who was homeless as a teen in Cicero, is scheduled for burial Friday with full military honors at the Long Island National Cemetery in New York.

Colon, 25, died in Baghdad last week after his unit came under enemy fire. In the days after his death, more details emerged about the skinny kid from the Bronx who launched his military career from the guidance counseling office at Morton East High School in Cicero.

Colon's mother died when he was 9. Alexandra Colon, Pedro's 19-year-old sister, said their mother's death after a long illness shattered the family and left Pedro sullen and lost.

Pedro "wasn't happy here," Alexandra said softly, referring to their home in the Bronx. "He would rebel. My father felt like he was going down a bad road. [Dad said] either follow my rules or get out."

Colon left. In 2000, he joined a friend who was moving to Cicero with his family. The friend's family put him up temporarily. When it was time to move on, Colon landed at a youth shelter on Chicago's North Side. He commuted to Morton East until a social worker at the school found him emergency housing closer to school.

Colon's sister and father, reached this week, said they had no idea that Pedro had spent his senior year homeless. Colon was not quick to share his troubles. Many of his friends and teachers, including his track coach, said he never hinted at his hard life of getting meals from a food pantry and toting his clothes from place to place in plastic garbage bags.

Colon's father, also named Pedro Colon, said he had been confident that the teenager would quickly return to their home in the Bronx. He was wrong.

When pressed, the soft-spoken 18-year-old senior told school officials that his father had kicked him out, but didn't talk much about the reasons. His teachers and guidance counselors recall instead his focus on getting his diploma, becoming an Army Ranger and working in Special Operations.

At the time of his death, Colon was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, Ft. Hood, Texas. He worked as a power generation equipment repairer.

By all indications, he was enormously happy with his chosen career. He enlisted in the Army a month before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He had re-enlisted and was on his second tour of Iraq when he died.

His father said he encouraged his son this summer to consider a career in the postal service.

"I was worried," his father said in a phone interview.

But the elder Pedro Colon said his son believed in the military. On his MySpace page, entitled "Gothic Dreams," several of Sgt. Colon's friends are fellow soldiers.

In his primary photo, Colon is shown wearing a black T-shirt with white skulls fashioned into a cross. He posted a shot of brass knuckles, a portrait of himself carrying an assault rifle and writes of his love for skating and music. Colon also shows a softer side, writing of wanting children one day and of trying to find himself. He said he was searching for love. He lists his hometown as "no where in particular."

Colon was posthumously promoted to a staff sergeant and awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and an Army Commendation Medal, said Army Master Sgt. Nilsa I. Davila-Aranda, the casualty affairs officer who oversaw his final arrangements.

In an emotional tribute on her MySpace page, Alexandra Colon tells her brother that he was too young to have been fighting in Iraq.

"Say hi to mommy for me," she wrote. "I'm glad that finally you could be with her."

From the Tribune

Related Link:
Pedro J. Colon killed in attack