Brothers Lost On Deployment; Sister Mourns 'Soul Mates'

Originally published on July 13, 2013 1:22 pm

Cpl. Jose "Freddy" Velez served in Iraq. His brother, Spc. Andrew Velez, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Both died in their early 20s. They are survived by their sister, Monica.

"My mom left us when I was 7, so my dad was a single parent," Monica says. "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."

One of her favorite memories is when both brothers came back from basic training and told her she could no longer 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," she tells her fiancé, Christopher Hernandez.

She didn't get to see Andrew before he deployed — he left straight from basic training. Freddy left for Iraq shortly after that. Monica was nervous, and scared.

"I remember there was this string of lights at the restaurant where I worked at," she says. "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."

She didn't think she would make it, and "it was such a good feeling when they would call home." The brothers' accounts of their time in the field were very different, though.

"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," Monica says. "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, 23, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. Andrew was asked to escort Freddy's body back to the U.S. Monica talked to him throughout the trip.

"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," she says.

Monica didn't know what to do or how to help. Posthumously, Freddy was promoted to corporal and received the Silver Star for outstanding service.

Two years later, Andrew committed suicide in Afghanistan. He was 22 and had previously been awarded the Army Commendation Medal.

"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," Monica says. "I try to remind myself every day that I have to earn what I get to love each day. It's a gift."

Audio produced for Weekend Edition Saturday by Yasmina Guerda.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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. Corporal Jose "Freddy" Velez served in Iraq. Specialist 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 seven, 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: Monica Velez, remembering her two younger brothers. Corporal Jose "Freddy" Velez was killed in Iraq. He was 23 years old and was awarded the Silver Star posthumously for outstanding service. Specialist 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.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.