Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Michael Rojas remembered

Before and after every mission in the streets of Iraq, Army Cpl. Michael Rojas placed a quick phone call to his mother in Fresno.

The calls were a touchstone, family members said, a reminder of life at home before he set out to do a dangerous job, and a reassurance that he was safe when the mission was over.

On April 18, the 21-year-old called home for the last time. He was killed a short time later along with Cpl. Wade Oglesby, 27, of Grand Junction, Colo., when a bomb exploded underneath their Humvee as they patrolled the streets of Taji, about 10 miles north of Baghdad.

Another soldier, who was not identified, was wounded. All three were assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, based in Fort Lewis, Wash.

Michelle Cordova said word of her brother's death reached their mother, Debbie Apodaca, as she was getting ready to leave for the post office with a package for her son.

"He had told her that his allergies were bothering him, so she bought him some medicine," Michelle Cordova said. "She was getting in her car to go mail it when the Army car pulled up in front of the house. She knew when she saw that car. She knew."

David Cordova, Rojas' stepfather, said the loss of his son has left a hole in his life he has no idea how to fill.

"You don't want to believe it's true," David Cordova said. "When he left, he started to tell me goodbye. I told him 'don't say bye to me, Michael. Say that you'll see me when you get back.' I want the memory of that day to be how I remember him. I still don't want to say goodbye."

Rojas, who turned 21 in March and married his girlfriend Katrina, who resides in Washington, in September while home on leave from Iraq, had several brothers and sisters. He grew up in Fresno and attended Reyburn Intermediate School and Clovis East High School. He was active in sports throughout his school years and loved being around his large family, Michelle Cordova said.

Rojas also made no distinction between his biological, step or half-siblings, David Cordova said.

"He never saw my sons as his stepbrothers, even though he had no biological connection with them," David Cordova said. "They were his brothers. He was such a good kid. Who wouldn't want a son like Michael?"

Rojas also had a reputation as the family clown.

"His nickname was 'Poppa-dosy.' I don't even know why," Michelle Cordova said. "He was always funny, always making jokes."

Michelle Cordova said she has dozens of pictures of her brother making "goofy" faces for the camera, but even as a young child, Rojas became serious when someone in uniform walked by. Maybe, Michelle Cordova said, the Army was in his blood.

"His biological father and grandfather both served," she said.

As a young man, Rojas made it clear that he planned to join the Army as well.

"He started talking about joining the Army when he was in seventh grade," Michelle Cordova said. "He said that he respected the service of the men and women who had gone before him, and he felt he wanted to serve as well. He enlisted while he was still in high school and left after he graduated."

David Cordova said joining the Army changed his son, for the better.

"The first time I saw him in uniform, I was sad and happy at the same time," David Cordova said. "I was sad that he was so grown up, but proud and happy that he had chosen a direction in his life. It's hard to accept that he's gone."

From the Fresno Bee

Related Link:
Michael M. Rojas dies of injuries from I.E.D.