Grief, and Warmth, Among Soldiers' Families in Puerto Rico

While in Puerto Rico to report the stories of soldiers from the island who have died in Iraq, Mandalit del Barco is impressed by how the families there welcome her and open up, sharing their grief.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

Mandalit Del Barco recently went to Puerto Rico to hear about soldiers there who've died in Iraq. A page from her Reporter's Notebook.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO: Every once in a while I get lucky and fall into a magical reporting day. I'd had almost no time to prepare for my trip, so I landed in San Juan at midnight with only one contact. The next morning I met her, a woman whose son was severely wounded during the war in Iraq. She called someone she had just met the day before, a woman who lives in a tiny village on the north coast of the island. I drove a few hours to that town, Quebradillas, and the woman, Ivy Jimenez, escorted me first to the mayor, then to the homes of all three soldiers from there who were killed in Iraq.

We spent hours talking to the relatives who tearfully recounted the lives of their brothers or sons.

Unidentified Woman: (Speaking Spanish)

DEL BARCO: It was as if they killed us too, one mother cried.

The families were so incredibly open and candid with me, sharing tender moments and showing me their homemade shrines; flowers, flags, newspaper clippings and photos. Alexis Roman Cruz's parents had set up a six foot tall glass cabinet in their living room filled with his military metals, his childhood toys, even his baby shoes and baby teeth. It turns out Alexis's father, Carmelito Roman, had written a song to honor his son and to warn parents not to let their children die in Iraq.

Mr. CARMELITO ROMAN (Father) (Singing in Spanish)

DEL BARCO: That very evening, Mr. Roman was to perform with his trio at the town's annual Patron Saints Festival and he invited me to come along. Before I knew it, the festival announcer was pulling me up on stage, introducing me to the entire town of Quebradillas.

Unidentified Man: (Speaking Spanish)

DEL BARCO: Applause for our visitor, a journalist from California, who even speaks Spanish.

(Soundbite of applause)

DEL BARCO: And the warm welcome continued on. When the festival wound down, Ivy invited me to stay with her and her husband at their home in the rain forest. They named me their new adopted granddaughter. That night, I slept in their daughter's old room, grateful and amazed by the hospitality I'd received just in one day in Quebradillas. Outside my window, a chorus of coki frogs serenaded me to sleep. Coki, coki - a sound you can only hear in Puerto Rico.

(Soundbite of coki frogs)

SIMON: NPR's Mandalit Del Barco.

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