GUAM SOLDIER KILLED IN IRAQ

By Theresa Merto

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Dec. 12) - Two candles flickered last night near a framed photo of Army Spc. Christopher Jude Rivera Wesley, who died in Iraq this week, marking the first confirmed Chamorro casualty of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

At 7:05 p.m. yesterday, three representatives from the Army arrived at the doorstep of Christopher Wesley's uncle's Santa Rita home to officially deliver the news.

The 25-year-old Army specialist died Dec. 8 in Iraq after the vehicle he was driving was attacked by Iraqis, said his uncle, Santa Rita Mayor Joseph Wesley, citing Army officials who had spoken to the family. Christopher Wesley is survived by Rose Marie Wesley, 45; his sister, Vanessa Marie Wesley Salas, 15, and his brother, Ricky Wesley Salas, 9.

"He loved the Army," Joseph Wesley said. "He joined to protect his family."

About a dozen family members, including the soldier's mom, wept last night after they received the tragic news.

"He was fighting to keep America free," Christopher Wesley's mother told the Army officials.

Christopher Wesley was driving an Army Stryker fighting vehicle on Dec. 8 in Iraq with two other soldiers as his passengers, his uncle said.

"They met up with (enemies) from the other side and all of a sudden they started firing," said Joseph Wesley, who received the information from military officials. "The vehicle he was driving got shot, and it flipped over."

The News Tribune, a Tacoma, Wash., newspaper, reported on Dec. 11 that three soldiers, from Fort Lewis, Wash., were killed Monday evening when two Stryker vehicles plunged from a collapsed embankment. The article named the 3rd Brigade, but did not name the three victims pending family notification.

A memorial is planned for noon Friday in Iraq for the three soldiers. The army is conducting an internal investigation, according to the news report written by an embedded reporter.

The incident occurred as infantrymen were beginning nighttime patrols in an area northeast of the Iraqi town of Duluiyah.

The report also noted that the deaths were the first in the brigade since it left Fort Lewis last month.

Calls were made to the Pentagon last night, but questions were referred to the Army. Attempts to reach Army officials in Washington, D.C., were unsuccessful.

Christopher Wesley was born in San Francisco and was the oldest of three children. After graduating from high school, he joined the Army but got out several years later, his uncle said.

"He wanted to go in first and experience the military then he realized that he wanted to help his grandma," Joseph Wesley said. "He wanted to come back. So he brought his grandma back home."

Christopher Wesley returned to Guam with his grandmother, Dolores Crisostomo Wesley, and lived here for four years in the '90s.

"He came to Guam when he was old enough already," Joseph Wesley said. "He wanted to learn everything about Guam."

While on Guam, Christopher Wesley worked at Inn on the Bay in Agat for several months and, during his free time, he enjoyed farming and fishing. He also loved the local food, especially chicken kelaguen and empanada.

He even learned the language, and understood and spoke a little Chamorro, the mayor said.

"He enjoyed the culture, the fiesta food, and most of it is the respect of the people," Joseph Wesley said. "His mom taught him to be a very respectful individual. He was a model for his brother and sister."

Although he loved Guam, he knew the job market on island was declining and rejoined the Army about two years ago, his uncle said.

Christopher Wesley wanted to be a part of the infantry where he was assigned. He enjoyed working with tanks and heavy equipment.

"He loves a challenge," Joseph Wesley said.

Christopher Wesley was stationed in Fort Lewis when he was activated for deployment to Iraq last month.

"He called his mom in Portland, Ore., that he has been activated by the president of the United States and Fort Lewis has been accounted for," Joseph Wesley said. He spent two weeks in Portland with his mom before he went to Iraq.

That was the last time she saw him alive.

'Serving the country'

Joseph Wesley said the family had first heard the news earlier yesterday from a friend who was house-sitting at Rose Wesley's home in Oregon.

A military official had stopped by the Oregon residence to deliver the news, but Rose Wesley was not home. She is on Guam for the funeral of her mother -- Christopher Wesley's grandmother who had helped raise him.

The friend called the family yesterday morning, but they did not get official word from authorities until last night.

Joseph Wesley said he had to call officials on island to find out if the news of his nephew's death was true.

"It is sad," he said, of the way they received word of the death.

Although Christopher Wesley was unable to return to Guam for his grandmother's funeral, his family said they knew he was there in spirit. Family members spoke with Christopher Wesley after Thanksgiving, when he found out about his grandmother's death.

It was the last time they heard his voice.

"He wanted to come home," Joseph Wesley said. "But again, he said he is serving the country and protecting us."

December 12, 2003

Pacific Daily News: www.guampdn.com

 

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