Sunday, April 08, 2007

Joe Polo remembered

Joe Polo always wanted to be a soldier. His mother, Caridad Guerra, never liked the idea, but she supported him anyway.

"I had to," Guerra said. "That's what he wanted to be."

On Saturday, two representatives of the U.S. Army knocked on the door of her Miami Gardens home.

Immediately, she knew what they were going to say: Her son, Sgt. Joe Polo, 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, was killed fighting in Iraq.

Polo, 24, received fatal wounds during an attack that included explosives, according to the Department of Defense. He was pronounced dead March 29, during his second tour of duty in Baghdad.

Polo joins at least 135 other service members with Florida roots who have died in the war. Of those 136, 13 have been from Broward; 16 have been from Miami-Dade.

Polo grew up in Miami Gardens, raised primarily by his mother and aunt, Jasmin Burgos. His parents divorced in the early 1990s.

Without a father in the home, Polo tried to take responsibility for his younger sisters, Bianka and Joycette Rodriguez, who are both 16..

"He helped raise us," Joycette said Tuesday afternoon. "He used to do everything for us. Change our diapers when we were babies. He'd make dinner for us all the time, until he left."

Guerra said her son wanted to be a soldier for as long as she can remember. He loved playing with G.I. Joes in the house and told his mother he wanted to see the world.

"He always liked the adventure of it," Guerra said. "There was nothing else he wanted to do."

Polo attended Carol City High School but didn't have enough credits to graduate. That summer, he enrolled in another school in South Dade -- his family doesn't remember which -- so he could enlist as soon as he got his high school equivalency degree.

In 2002, he headed for Fort Benning, Ga., his family said. He served in Korea for a year and eventually rose to the rank of sergeant.

In 2005, Polo called his mother. He told her he was going to serve in Iraq.

"The first mission went well," Guerra recalled. "Of course, I didn't want him to go. I was worried, but it was what he had to do."

Polo loved his work and wanted to help facilitate Iraq's new democracy, she said.

Even though she didn't approve of his going, Guerra said she kept it to herself and sent him care packages of lemon meringue cookies, Cape Cod potato chips and green tea in the mail.

"I sent him everything he loved," Guerra said.

A year later, Polo came home. He got married to a woman from Miami Lakes. His wife declined to comment for this article.

A week after the wedding, Polo returned to Baghdad. This time, he was fighting with the 2nd Battalion out of Fort Carson, Colo.

The second tour was different, his mother said. When he called, she said, his voice had a sense of hopelessness.

"Sometimes he'd be depressed," Guerra said. "Sometimes, he'd be angry. Things didn't look like they were getting better there.

"He'd tell me how people would blow up right in front of them," she said.

"There was the pregnant woman. One time a pregnant woman came up to them. But she wasn't pregnant. Her stomach was full of explosives."

Guerra's feelings are complicated.

There's the personal loss of her only son. Her two daughters lost their role model.

But there's also a political pain, as she sees her son as another patriotic victim of a "senseless war."

As she told her story, there was another knock at the door. It was a family friend, who also had served in the military, with a bouquet of flowers in his hand. He hugged Polo's mother. In his arms, she began to cry:

"Don't go to that place," she said. "Never go there."

Then they sat in the living room and talked. He placed the flowers on the living room table. The flowers fell behind a photo of Guerra's fallen son, dressed in a green uniform, posing in front of a U.S. flag.

From the Herald

Related Link:
Joe Polo dies of injuries from I.E.D.