If the two soldiers had one thing in common, it was their determination to join the Army and fight in Iraq, believing it to be the right thing to do. It is a message they tried to impress on their families, who worried incessantly about phantom snipers and hidden bombs. "I'm going to defend my country," Private Tucker said in the telephone message. "Be proud of me."Ken MacKenzie appeared on the Today Show and was critical of the U.S. government's handling of the situation.
"I think the U.S. government was too slow to react to this," MacKenzie said Tuesday. "They should have had a plan in place."Another uncle, Mario Vasquez, had a different was of a differing mindset:
MacKenzie said the government should have offered a $100 million reward and offered to exchange mujahideen detainees for the soldiers' lives. The government seized enough money from Saddam Hussein to afford it, he said.
He called for the military to retaliate swiftly against the kidnappers.So, was the U.S. response to try and rescue the two soldiers, deserving of Ken MacKenzie's criticism?
"I wish they'd punish the people that do these kinds of things right away, instead of taking forever and spending millions of dollars," Vasquez said.
"I think you capture them, make them pay for what they did. Don't think that it's just two more soldiers. Don't negotiate anything. They [the killers] didn't."
This is what Major General Caldwell had to say on Larry King Live:
8,000 coalition forces and Iraqi and army, police, and security forces down in that location and clamped down the area. So the possibility for them to move them out of there almost became impossible at that point, and when you look at the amount of hours that were flown by both the United States Air Force and other aerial assets, about 400 flight hours of fixed wing, about 200 hours of UAVs and if you look over a 72-hour period, we were continuously monitoring the air with multiple intelligence sources up there looking around. When you look at the effort that was put in, I mean we lost I think you probably heard one of our - one coalition force and had 12 wounded in the efforts to find these two missing soldiers. We had a armored vehicle destroyed, another seven damaged. I mean, it was an intensive, concerted effort. There were secondary effects out of this, though, because it's a bad area. So we also turned up a lot.One American soldier was killed, and 7 wounded during this search for the two missing Private first class.
And when Sylvia Grice, a cousin of PFC Kristian Menchaca, was asked by Larry King "to react" to the criticism leveled at the US government by PFC Menchaca's uncle. Her response:
"He doesn't speak for Kristian's family. He's views are not ours."More from the Larry King Live interview:
KING: Oh. So you disagree with him?
GARCIA: Well, he does not represent our family, nor does he represent Kristian Menchaca.
ROBERTS: Gabriela and Sylvia, it's John Roberts here with Larry and my extreme condolences to you for your loss. I'm sure -- as a parent of a young boy I know how difficult it must be to lose a family member to war. What was the family's thoughts about the fact that Kristian was going off to fight in Iraq?
GRICE: We were shocked. When he told us, when he had made his decision, obviously, we had a lot of concerns, and -- but his mind was made up. And he was that kind of person. When his mind was made up, he followed through with everything.
ROBERTS: Why did he join the military?
GRICE: A lot of different reasons. He was very proud to serve his country. He -- the camaraderie, the structure.
GARCIA: The challenge.
GRICE: The challenge. Absolutely.
ROBERTS: Did you support his decision to go to Iraq?
GRICE: Absolutely, 100 percent.
KING: Does his mother say she was against the war, Sylvia?
GRICE: His mother did not say she was against the war. She had the concerns that every parent has for their son going off to war. Don't go, what if. There's always the what if in the back of your mind. And as a concerned parent of course, she would have wanted for him to stay. But his decision had been made and we supported him.
That actually seems to contradict this statement by Maria Vasquez, who is said in the Washington Post to be his mother:
She issued a statement written in Spanish that said, "I am against the war and I feel very hurt by what has happened to my son."I'm a bit confused, since in the NY Times today, it calls one "Maria Vasquez", as being his aunt.
More about Pfc Menchaca:
KING: What can you tell us about him, Gabriela?Here's a bit more about Pfc Menchaca:
GARCIA: He was very reserved, 23 years old. Before he left, he was just as reserved but carefree. The last time we saw him, he was a lot more confident, more self-reliant. He's always been loyal but even more so. And I think that's part of the reason he also joined the army, because of the loyalty.
KING: So he changed?
GARCIA: Yes. He grew.
GRICE: He became a man.
Private Menchaca made it a point to carve out time for his extended family on both sides of the border, spending time with his mother, his brother, his cousins, aunts and uncles in Houston, Matamoros and Brownsville. He also spent time with his wife, Christina, 18, whom he married without telling his family last September, one month before shipping out.From CNN:
A high school dropout who later earned his graduate equivalency diploma, Private Menchaca had been unhappy working in Houston at a gas station. He decided to join the Army, hoping it would lead to a job as an immigration agent, and told his family Christmas Day, 2004 that he planned to enlist; they tried to talk him out of it. Private Menchaca's brother had served in the Army and had not enjoyed it, Mrs. Vásquez said.
But Private Menchaca insisted, and the family came around. He scored so high on his entrance test that he was given the option to bypass the infantry, said his cousin, Gabriela García. He chose not to do that. Instead, he signed up in March 2005 and wound up in the 101st Airborne.
Menchaca grew up in a close-knit extended Mexican-American family in Houston. His uncle and cousins remembered a sweet, quiet young man who was proud to be in the military and later wanted to join the U.S. Border Patrol.
"He talked about how happy he was that he was serving his country," said Sylvia Grice, 37, Menchaca's cousin.
Tucker's family grieved in private, saying in a statement they were devastated by the news, but were heartened by the community support.Madras, Oregon numbers around 5,500....much more of a small town than the big city that is Houston. So the residents of Madras especially feel the loss of PFC Tucker, intimately. This morning, PFC Tucker's father, Wes Tucker, had this to say to the media:
"Tom has gained a much larger family through this ordeal than he had when he left home to go help to free the Iraqi people and protect his country from the threat of terrorism," the family said.
"Tom has gained a much larger family through this ordeal than he had when he left home to go help to free the Iraqi people and protect his country from the threat of terrorism," the family said.The local paper, the Madras Pioneer, has the following to say (also, here) from those who knew Pfc Thomas Tucker:
"Our son, as far as we're concerned, he has died for the freedom of everybody in the United States,"
On Monday, Tom Brown, of Madras, a friend of the Tucker family, helped put up a display of flags -- each from a veteran who had died -- in the Tuckers' front yard on the Culver Highway. The Lions Club put up flags around town early Tuesday.
"The family would like to see the community support with flags and yellow ribbons," Brown said.
Tom and Janet Brown have two sons who attended school with Thomas Tucker -- Cody and Jordan. Cody, who was in Tucker's class in high school, is also with the same U.S. Army Division -- the 101st Airborne Division -- deployed in Iraq.
"Our hearts go out to the Tucker family," said Janet Brown. "Tom's a fine young man -- a strong young man physically and mentally, and a good soldier. We're just saying lots of prayers for him and his fellow soldiers."
After enlisting in the U.S. Army in July of 2005, Tucker was stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky., as a member of B Company, 1st Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. He was deployed to Iraq in February.
Before his deployment, high school buddy Jake Koolhaas, of Madras, recalled Tucker's most recent visit to Madras. "I had dinner with him at the Meet Market after he got back from basic training. He looked great -- he was wearing his uniform. I was pretty impressed."
When they were in high school, Koolhaas said Tucker enjoyed riding four-wheelers out on the Crooked River Grassland, and working on his '71 Chevy pickup. "He found a 350 motor and we spent weeks putting it in there," Koolhaas said.
Josh Richesin, another of Tucker's school friends, had small engine repair with him. "I remember him being into a lot of mechanical things, like cars." Tucker's sense of humor in high school was also remarkable. "He was a jokester," said Richesin, adding that Tucker found the humor in everything.
According to a statement from Tucker's family, Thomas Tucker was born in Prineville, but raised with his older sister in Madras, where he attended school. "Thomas has a great love of music and played the piano," the statement noted.
Classmate Kayla (Hatfield) DuPont, of Madras, was a friend of Tucker's in high school, when they were both in band. "He was very outgoing and friendly," she said. "He was just an all-around great guy."
During high school, Tucker worked at the Tiger Mart gas station and car wash -- his first real job, according to former Madras mayor Rick Allen, who owned Tiger Mart at that time.
"He was always trying to save money for his car," Allen said. "He always had a vehicle to mess with."
Josh Tolman of Madras, who has been a friend of Tucker's since fourth grade, worked with him at Tiger Mart, and agreed that Tucker has always loved "recreational motorized stuff."
Throughout their school years, "We did everything back then together. We grew up hunting and fishing. We had a tight little group in high school," he recalled.
Over the years, Tolman kept in touch with Tucker, meeting with him right before he was deployed to Iraq. "He wanted to go do something meaningful," he said.
Tolman found out that Tucker was missing on Friday afternoon, before the names of the two were released. "It's hard to take it all in," he said Monday. "I don't know what to think about what he's going through over there."
Allen ran into him after he completed basic training, and was impressed with the man the quiet, pleasant boy had become. "I looked at him and thought, `My God, that's Tom Tucker,'" he said.
"He grew up coming to Tiger Mart for Icees; now he's in the middle of an international, worldwide issue. It just breaks your heart," said Allen, who spent most of Monday fielding calls from media, including CNN, Larry King, Newsweek, the Today Show, U.S. Today, as well as state and local news outlets.
California resident Jim Krause remembers well the media attention after his brother Sgt. Elmer C. Krause was lost in an attack on a convoy in Iraq on April 9, 2004.
"We were inundated by the media in the beginning," he said, noting his family's concern that anything they said might be picked up by the people who were holding his brother and used against him.
His brother's remains were found in a shallow grave nearly two weeks later, but Sgt. Keith "Matt" Maupin, who was in the same convoy, is still listed as missing.
"I know what the family's going through," he said Monday, when he called The Pioneer to find out how to convey his sympathy to Tucker's family. "If you haven't gone through it, it's torment. You hope for the best and you worry about what they're going through."
Sunday evening and Monday morning, media descended on Madras from all over the area. "Newspeople were banging on the door at 5 a.m.," said Tom Brown.
The Jefferson County Sheriff's Department stepped in to assist the family and ensure their privacy. "Our primary goal is to keep their privacy honored," said Sheriff Jack Jones. His department was contacted by the military Saturday night, and has been supplying deputies to keep media and others away from the house.
At one time, half a dozen satellites were stationed near the intersection of the Culver Highway and Fairgrounds Road, monitoring the home of Wesley and Margaret Tucker. They had dispersed by nightfall, but reassembled Tuesday morning.
School District 509-J has been overwhelmed with media requests for photos and comments, and, at the request of the family, has asked employees not to talk to media, but to support the family by putting out yellow ribbons and flying American flags, according to Superintendent Guy Fisher.
"In a tragedy like that, you need to honor the family's request," he said, noting that Tucker's mother, Margaret, is employed as a cook at Madras High School.
"The family wants everyone to know how grateful they are for the support that they've received," said Everitt, but added that they are not yet prepared to handle non-family visits.
As the mother of a soldier still stationed in Iraq, Janet Brown said her heart goes out to the Tucker family. "This community will do whatever the family needs. Our thoughts and prayers are with them."
A savings account has been set up at Columbia River Bank for the Tucker family in the name of "Bring Tommy Home," to help the family with expenses. Call the Madras Chamber of Commerce at 475-2350 for information on assisting the family in other ways.
Condolences to the family members of Pfc Tucker and Pfc Menchaca; also condolences to the family and friends of Spc. David J. Babineau, 25, of Springfield, Mass., the driver killed who was with them.