Pennsylvania Family Struggles with Soldier's Death

Army Sgt. Jae Moon of Levittown, Pa., died in Baghdad when a roadside bomb detonated near his patrol unit on Christmas Day. His mother says "I don't need a hero. I need my son."

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And let's remember one of the Americans who gave everything in Iraq. Army Sergeant Jae Moon died on Christmas Day when a roadside bomb struck his patrol unit in Baghdad.

NPR's Jack Zahora visited Moon's home in Levittown, Pennsylvania.

JACK ZAHORA: Jae Moon's friends say he cooked great Korean food, liked to smoke cigarettes, and always looked for a good time. Jenna and Georgia Lim(ph) met him in Denver where his unit was based and fondly recall one time when the 21-year-old drank a bit too much at a party.

Ms. JENNA LIM (Jae Moon's Friend): We had a beer in one hand, and something (unintelligible) in his other hand. And he just fell asleep like that, and it's the funniest thing ever. And then we woke him up and then he's all like, okay. Okay. Who wants to have another beer?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. J. LIM: It's like just the party just never ended with him.

Ms. GEORGIA LIM (Jae Moon's Friend): Yeah.

Ms. J. LIM: Yeah.

ZAHORA: His childhood friend Alice Nam(ph) says in high school, Moon was constantly goofing off. But then he graduated, joined the Army and he quickly matured, she says, as he patrolled the border in his homeland of South Korea. Then in 2005, the Army sent him to Iraq.

Ms. ALICE NAM (Jae Moon's Childhood Friend): I knew like, you know, he had trouble sleeping, and like adjusting from like becoming like a civilian into becoming a soldier. And that coming back home on like block leave, and becoming a civilian again was just like really hard on him. And after he left the Army, he came back. And he came back a man, and like a leader.

ZAHORA: The Army called Moon for a second tour of duty in October. His family worried about his safety. But then his father, Young Moon(ph), got a call from his son in Christmas Eve. He told his father he was doing well.

Mr. YOUNG MOON (Jae Moon's Father): That is that my family Christmas present, because my son was okay. He's good. After that day, Christmas Day, around 3 o'clock, two soldiers have been coming. They say I'm sorry, you're son has been die.

ZAHORA: In the Moon household outside Philadelphia is a memorial to the fallen soldier. A day after the funeral, a steady flow of visitors - many of Korean descent - come into the house and lay out flowers. They stare into the pictures of Moon in his military uniform and bow in respect. His mother, Ki Moon(ph), sits in armchair weeping as her daughter consoles her.

And then among the flow of visitors, a man wearing a military uniform enters, carrying a bouquet of flowers. He is Staff Sergeant Daniel Eskemiah(ph), Moon's squad leader from his tour of South Korea.

Sergeant DANIEL ESKEMIAH (Staff Sergeant, Jae Moon's Squad Leader): On behalf of my battalion commander and the sergeant major, present you with these flowers.

(Soundbite of applause)

ZAHORA: Ki Moon walks over and embraces him for several moments. They both sit and hold each other's hands in reminisce. Eskemiah recalls that he was so impressed with Moon's performance that he made him a team leader in charge of three other soldiers of higher ranking. Ki Moon nods and smiles. But her eyes once again grow sullen as she looks over to her son's war medals.

Ms. KI MOO (Jae Moon's Mother): It's a lot of things. He did a lot of things, but, I don't need it a - I don't need a hero. I need my son. You know that? You understand?

Sgt. ESKEMIAH: I do.

Ms. MOON: I need my son, not this war. You know?

Sgt. ESKEMIAH: As much as you needed him, we need him too.

ZAHORA: On the Web site MySpace.com, Jae Moon wrote about being a good soldier, and that his family was most important to him. He also wrote that his goal in life was to go to Iraq and come back alive. But now, Young Moon sits cross-legged on the floor of his living room. He looks at his son's picture. He says now his son will continue to grow up in his memory.

Jack Zahora, NPR News.

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