Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Roberto Causor remembered

The last time Roberto Causor Jr. came home on leave from fighting in Iraq, he had a laptop full of photos and videos. But the San Jose soldier didn't want to show the disturbing war images to his 15-year-old cousin, Maggie.

"Why? I'm old enough," Maggie Lozano argued back.

"I guess he always wanted to protect me."

Causor's March visit was a sobering one for his tightknit family of cousins, aunts and uncles who live in east San Jose.

Maggie snuck a peek of the photos. And for the first time, reality set in that the 21-year-old they called "Junior," might not make it home again.

On Saturday, Causor - a paratrooper rifleman with the 82nd Airborne Division - was killed when a homemade bomb exploded near his patrol in Samarra. He was awarded the purple heart and bronze star.

While his parents and three younger sisters who live in New Mexico made plans to return to San Jose for a pending funeral, Causor's extended family gathered at one of their homes off White Road on Monday afternoon to remember fonder images of a young man who made his cousins laugh with funny faces. For several years, Causor (pronounced COW-sore) and various members of his immediate family lived in a one-room bungalow in the backyard of his cousins, the Lozanos.

The son of Mexican parents, Causor was born in San Jose and spent many of his childhood and teen years here. He was proud of his roots and his family's adopted country where several relatives started their own construction and electrical businesses, said his uncle Francisco Causor.

By joining the military when he graduated in 2004 from Overfelt High School, "in a way that was kind of a payback, in gratitude," for the success and freedom many of his relatives enjoyed in the United States, Francisco Causor said.

And he always liked playing with toy guns. More than basketball, more than soccer. So no one was really surprised when he joined the ROTC program in high school and told his family he planned to join the Army. They tried to talk him out of it.

"Why not apply for a job in construction?" his uncle asked him. "But he believed strongly in it. He had it in his heart."

Maggie remembers cruising with him on previous leaves home. He'd give dirty looks to the teenage boys eyeing his young cousin. She'd giggle every time. In his father's burgundy Suburban, Causor would roll down the windows and crank up the stereo when songs about soldiers played. When Beyonce sang "I Need a Soldier," Maggie said, "he'd be like, `I'm here! I'm here!"

He would jump out of the truck and dance.

She likes to remember him that way.

When he came home for the last time in March, they saw a change in him. If he heard a noise in the middle of the night, he would bolt up in bed. "He was always on alert," his uncle said.

He told them that members of his crew were killed in Humvee - a vehicle he was supposed to be on that day. He told them of a wounded insurgent who fell to the ground, looked up at him and said, "I'm sorry."

Many of the photos he brought home showed him posing with guns, wrestling with his fellow paratroopers, or celebrating his 21st birthday in February. But several were stark: a video of Iraqi homes he was ordered to clear out; a dead insurgent lying on the ground.

But still he was committed to returning. It was his responsibility and he was eager to fulfill it, his uncle said.

Just before he returned to Iraq in early April, the family gathered one last time at his aunt's house. He talked about his girlfriend in Texas - the first girlfriend his cousin Maggie ever approved of, a woman who became pregnant with his child on that trip. Using his grandmother's recipe, his aunt made Causor's favorite enchiladas.

And they all prayed at the table that night, prayed for his safe return.

"I saw peace in him when he left," his uncle said. "He had peace in his heart."

From the San Jose Mercury News

Related Link:
Roberto J. Causor dies 'of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device and small arms fire'