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Bishop At GI's Funeral: Work For Peace

Christina Menchaca, 18, third from left, wife of Army Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, is comforted by family members during his funeral in Brownsville, Texas, Wednesday, June 28, 2006. Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, was one of two 101st Airborne Division soldiers whose booby-trapped remains were found June 19, three days after they disappeared following an insurgent attack.
AP
The remains of a Texas soldier captured and brutalized in Iraq were buried Wednesday following a funeral Mass celebrated by a Catholic bishop and a dozen priests, and attended by hundreds of veterans, local residents and area dignitaries.

Pfc. Kristian Menchaca was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and a Prisoner of War medal.

Menchaca, 23, was one of three soldiers to die after a June 16 insurgent attack at the checkpoint they were guarding. He and another soldier, Pfc. Thomas Tucker of Madras, Oregon, went missing for three days before their mutilated and booby-trapped bodies were recovered. The third soldier, Spc. David J. Babineau, of Springfield, Massachusetts, died in the attack.

Diocese of Brownsville Bishop Raymundo Pena spoke during the bilingual Mass of Menchaca's valor and sacrifice. Some of Menchaca's relatives crossed the U.S.-Mexico border to be with his family. His mother, Maria Vasquez, was born in Mexico, and his family now lives largely in Brownsville.

"News reports about the circumstances of Kris' death in Iraq could lead us to an unholy rage and anger, but that would only dishonor Kristian's very name and Kristian himself," Pena said. "We must, as he did, reach for the ideal: to work for peace and an end to conflict wherever we may find it."

Local residents carrying U.S. flags lined the route of the funeral procession, and workers emerged from area businesses, some in fast food uniforms or nursing scrubs, to join them.

Menchaca has been described as a quiet young man who was devoted to the Army and newly married. He hoped his military experience would qualify him for a career with the U.S. Border Patrol.

Border Patrol agents joined police and uniformed veterans lined up at the cemetery as a Fort Campbell honor guard carried the flag-covered coffin to the grave.

Border Patrol Chief Lynne Underdown, who attended the ceremony, issued a written statement.

"Although we are brought here today by a profoundly sorrowful event, we are also here to pay homage to his memory, his patriotism and his commitment to protect our country and preserve our way of life," she said.

Christina Menchaca, Kristian Menchaca's 18-year-old wife, shook with sobs during the gun salute and the trumpets playing taps.

Vasquez cried on the shoulder of Menchaca's older brother, Julio.

"My little boy," she said. "He was only 23."

Together they pressed their faces to the coffin and cried.

Ram Chavez, a commander of the Hispanic veterans group American GI Forum, drove down from Corpus Christi with his veterans' band to play music at the funeral.

He said he was glad to see that military were honored — unlike when he returned wounded from Vietnam.

"We know how it was at that time," he said. "We want to make sure we honor young men and women coming back today as it wasn't a big deal when we came back."

Rachel Ayala, a school district official who has been acting as spokeswoman to the family, said the family would never forget the outpouring of community support.

"I just want to reassure this nation that Kristian may have died in hatred, but his spirit will always live on in love," she said.

Menchaca was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.