SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time now for another conversation from StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, honoring the men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their families. Today, the story of two soldiers, two brothers. Cpl. Jose "Freddy" Velez served in Iraq; Spc. Andrew Velez deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Recently, their sister, Monica, came to StoryCorps with her fiance, Christopher Hernandez, to remember her younger siblings.
MONICA VELEZ: My mom left us when I was 7, so my dad was a single parent. And I did all the household chores. I got the boys dressed for school; I taught them how to ride their bike; I taught them how to read and write.
CHRISTOPHER HERNANDEZ: What is one of your favorite memories of all three of you guys together?
VELEZ: One day when they both came home from basic training, they did a demotion party - where they told me I was no longer allowed to be bossy. I couldn't tell them what to do or what to wear. And they kind of started telling me how to grow up and live my life as a young adult, instead of acting like a mother.
HERNANDEZ: Do you remember what it was like when Andrew deployed?
VELEZ: Andrew deployed straight from basic training, so we didn't get to see him. Then Freddy deployed shortly after Andrew. I was a little nervous, and I was scared. I remember there was this string of lights at the restaurant where I worked at. And I thought, if I lost my brothers, it would be like if you cut both sides of that string of lights, and that middle light would just fall and break. That would be me. I wouldn't be able to make it. And it was such a good feeling when they would call home.
But Andrew would be very descriptive. He'd just let you know, "I can smell dead bodies," and "When you shoot somebody, they don't get back up." He would just tell us what it was. Freddy was more private about it. He always made everything sound like he was lying on the beach, taking in the sun, having martinis. He never made it sound like it was bad. I think Freddy was more trying to like, protect us.
Freddy was killed in action in Iraq. The Army asked Andrew to escort Freddy's body back to the States, for the services. And I talked to Andrew throughout the trip. And he started telling me these horrible things about how every time they stopped, they would make him open Freddy's bag up, and he'd have to look at Freddy's body. I didn't know what to do. I didn't know how to help him.
Freddy died in 2004, and then Andrew died in 2006, by suicide in Afghanistan. My brothers were like my soul mates and when my dad passes away, there won't be anybody else but me. I just miss my brothers. And so I try to remind myself every day that I have to earn what I get to love each day. It's a gift.
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SIMON: Monica Velez, remembering her two younger brothers: Cpl. Jose "Freddy" Velez, who was killed in Iraq; he was 23 years old, and was awarded the Silver Star posthumously for outstanding service; Spc. Andrew Velez was 22 when died in Afghanistan and before his suicide, he received the Army Commendation Medal.
This conversation was recorded in Austin, Texas, as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative. And like all StoryCorps interviews, it is archived at the Library of Congress. To download the StoryCorps podcast, you can go to npr.org.
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