Thursday, August 16, 2007

Juan Alcantara remembered at wake

The fiancee of a 22-year-old U.S. soldier slain in Iraq screamed and fell to the floor in grief when she saw his body at his wake yesterday.

Sayonara Lopez also decried the fact that Cpl. Juan M. Alcantára died without ever seeing his only child, born while he was fighting in Iraq on an extended tour of duty.

Alcantára's daughter, Jaylani, was born the day after he would have returned if U.S. officials had not extended his tour for another four months.

"They told him that because I didn't have complications from the pregnancy, there was no need for him to be here," said Lopez at R.G. Ortiz Funeral home in Washington Heights. "I started to cry. He was upset."

Alcantára and three other infantrymen were killed Aug. 6 in Baqouba when a bomb blew up in a house they were checking for the devices, said news reports.

But Alcantára never met little Jaylani Marie despite repeated requests to take a leave, Lopez said.

"It's an injustice that they didn't let him see his daughter," said Maria Alcantára, his mother. "He had finished his service. There was no reason for him to be there."

Streams of mourners filed past the coffin last night, hugging and consoling each other as they fondly remembered Alcantára, who many said always wore a smile.

A cousin, Manny Rodriguez, said his family and Alcantára's lived together for years in Washington Heights, and described Alcantára as "a happy person who never did wrong" to anybody.

Born in the Dominican Republic, Alcantára moved to New York with family at age 5 or 6.

After graduating from Edward A. Reynolds West Side High School in Manhattan in 2004, he enlisted in the Army, hoping to earn money to enroll in college after his service, his family said.

In January 2005, he was sent to Fort Lewis, Wash., where he joined the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.

Alcantára was deployed to Iraq in June 2006. His tour was extended four months past the date he was to return, June 28 - the day before Jaylani was born.

Alcantára's sister, Samantha Paulino, 13, said she remembers summer barbecues with her brother and listening to bachata music with him as he twirled her around.

"We ... [were] mad close, like that," she said, crossing her fingers. "Now it's just my sister and me and Jaylani. She looks just like him. At least he gave us the baby. I'm happy because he's a hero, but I'm also upset because this happened."

Alcantára is also survived by another sister, Fredelinda Peña; and six brothers.

From Newsday

Related Link:
Juan M. Alcantara dies 'of wounds suffered from an improvised explosive device'