Families Of GIs Confirm Brutal Deaths

The U.S. Defense Department has identified the missing soldiers as Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, of Houston, Texas, and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker, 25, of Madras, Oregon. AP Photo/U.S. Army

The families of two soldiers caught in an insurgent attack in Iraq said the military confirmed to them Thursday that two brutalized bodies found earlier this week were the missing men.

Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca's family had gathered at his mother's Brownsville home, hoping that DNA tests on the body would show the young newlywed wasn't one of the victims.

"They have confirmed that it is Kristian," his aunt, Hermelinda Gomez, said in a brief statement before returning inside the single-story brick house.

In Madras, Ore., an Army National Guard sergeant staying with Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker's family also confirmed the news to his parents on Thursday, said Kay Fristad, an Oregon National Guard spokeswoman for the family.

"It's been extremely difficult throughout," Fristad said. "There was always a shred of hope there."

Menchaca, 23, and Tucker, 25, disappeared after an insurgent attack at a checkpoint by a Euphrates River canal, 12 miles south of Baghdad. The attack also killed another U.S. soldier who had been with them.

A U.S. military official said Wednesday that one and possibly both young men were tortured and beheaded. The bodies were sent to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Wednesday for DNA testing.

Felipa Gomez, Menchaca's 16-year-old cousin, said the military official who had been updating the family came with the news in the middle of the night.

"We had already expected it," she said, showing a poster full of snapshots of Menchaca that she had made.

Friends and neighbors had decorated the front yard with yellow ribbons, American flags, and red, white, and blue silk flowers, and a group of local veterans came to offer condolences.

Gomez said the body was expected home within a few days, and that Menchaca's wife, 18-year-old Christina Menchaca, of Big Spring, Texas, was going to come down for the funeral.

The U.S. military recovered the bodies in an area it said was rigged with explosives. An Iraqi official said the Americans were tortured and killed in a "barbaric" way.

Tucker graduated from high school in 1999 and worked a variety of construction jobs before he decided to join the Army last summer. His friends said he liked to angle for catfish in the Prineville Reservoir and hunt deer in the Ochoco Mountains.

Menchaca's close-knit Mexican-American family described him as a sweet, quiet young man who joined the military last year and was deployed to Iraq within months.

The two men and Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., who was killed in the attack Friday, were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky.

The insurgent group claimed the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq executed the men personally, but offered no evidence. The U.S. military did not confirm whether the soldiers died from wounds suffered the attack Friday or killed later.
  • Sean Alfano

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