Monday, April 16, 2007

Damian Lopez Rodriguez laid to rest

Teen soldier Damian Lopez Rodriguez, who was born in Mexico, volunteered for the U.S. Army and died in combat while awaiting American citizenship, was laid to rest in Tucson on Monday under the flags of his homeland and his adopted country.

A sea of Stars and Stripes was punctuated by a lone Mexican flag as the coffin of the private first class was lowered into his grave at Evergreen Cemetery. Earlier, a soloist sang "America the Beautiful" as the casket was carried out of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church on the South Side.

Rodriguez, 19, a native of Nogales, Sonora, died "a national hero," said Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast, top commander at Fort Huachuca, southeast of Tucson, who spoke on behalf of the Army.

A 2005 graduate of Pueblo High Magnet School, Rodriguez was killed in action in Baghdad on April 6 when his Humvee was hit by a homemade bomb.

He was overseas with the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, based in Schweinfurt, Germany.

"Like many soldiers, he believed he was making a difference," Fast said. "There is no greater cause than to give your life for your nation, and in this case, your adopted nation.

"We thank you for giving your son to us," Fast told the soldier's father, Rafael Lopez, and his mother, Ana Rodriguez, who sobbed as her youngest child was buried.

More than 200 mourners attended services for the young infantryman, who was eulogized in Spanish and in English.

For many, it was an occasion to reflect on the contributions of Mexican immigrants.

At at time when some Americans are anxious about the influx of foreigners in their midst, "Damian serves as a beautiful example to us," said the Rev. Raúl Trevizo, who officiated at the Roman Catholic funeral Mass.

Some U.S. citizens wonder, "Are these people good for us?" Trevizo said.

"The death of Damian speaks more clearly than any politician could speak, because they are willing to die for us. That tells the whole story," the priest said.

In 2002, President Bush signed an executive order to speed up the naturalization process for immigrants who serve in the military during wartime. They now can apply for citizenship without a waiting period.

Rodriguez had done so before he died, and his citizenship will be granted posthumously, said Command Sgt. Maj. Frank Saunders of Fort Huachuca.

"He was going through the process, and because of what happened, they will expedite the process," Saunders said.

The crowd of mourners included dozens of current and former Pueblo students. Many had been band mates with Rod-riguez, who played drums in his high school marching band.

Former drum line member Bianca Garms, 18, wept as an Army honor guard fired 21 rifle shots in Rodriguez's honor.

"He was the best. I came to show my respect and support his family," said Garms, who wore a T-shirt emblazoned with the letters DLR — Rodriguez's initials.

Also in the crowd was Vietnam veteran Sam Barnard, a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a motorcycle group that pays tribute at the funerals of fallen service members. It was his job to hold the Mexican flag during the burial service.

Some of the motorcycle group's members balked at the idea, said Barnard, a Navy veteran who now lives in Green Valley.

"The (Mexican) flag was a controversial subject among our people. They felt that America is America," Barnard said.

But Rodriguez's parents specifically requested that the foreign flag be displayed amid the many U.S. flags to honor the fallen soldier's heritage, Barnard said.

"It gives him a special place," he said.

"Here is a Mexican citizen who loved our country enough to fight for it, who wanted to become an American. And he paid the ultimate price."

From the Arizona Star

Related Link:
Damian Lopez Rodriguez remembered

Related Link:
Damian Lopez Rodriguez dies of injuries from I.E.D.