Family, Friends Remember Soldier Killed in Iraq

A Roman Catholic priest urged mourners Wednesday at the funeral of a Texas soldier who was captured and mutilated in Iraq to avoid "unholy rage" and work for peace to honor his memory.

Pfc. Kristian Menchaca, 23, was one of two 101st Airborne Division soldiers whose booby-trapped remains were found June 19, three days after they disappeared following an insurgent attack.

Diocese of Brownsville Bishop Raymundo Pena spoke of Menchaca's valor and sacrifice.

"News reports about the circumstances of Kris' death in Iraq could lead us to an unholy rage and anger, but that would only dishonor Kristian's very name and Kristian himself," Pena said.

"We must, as he did, reach for the ideal: to work for peace and an end to conflict wherever we may find it," he added.

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Al Qaeda in Iraq claimed it killed Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas Tucker of Madras, Ore., saying the successor to slain leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi had "slaughtered" them, according to a Web statement that could not be authenticated.

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A third soldier, Spc. David J. Babineau of Springfield, Mass., died in the attack.

Local residents carrying U.S. flags lined the route of the funeral procession Wednesday, and workers emerged from area businesses, some in fast food uniforms or nursing scrubs, to join them.

Menchaca, who was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a Prisoner of War medal, was remembered as a quiet young man who was newly married and devoted to the Army. He hoped his military experience would qualify him for a career with the U.S. Border Patrol.

Border Patrol agents joined police and uniformed veterans lined up at the cemetery as a Fort Campbell, Ky., honor guard carried the flag-covered coffin to the grave during his burial.

Christina Menchaca, Menchaca's 18-year-old wife, shook with sobs during a gun salute and trumpets playing taps. She pressed her face to the coffin and cried with Menchaca's mother, Maria Vasquez, who leaned on the shoulder of her older son, Julio.

"My little boy," Vasquez said. "He was only 23."