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Dead soldier's uncle: Family found out on TV

Mario Vasquez, uncle of Pfc. Kristian Menchaca


• Interactive: Who's who in Iraq
• Interactive: Sectarian divide


CNN Access

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- Remains thought to be of two American soldiers who went missing after an ambush on an Iraqi checkpoint were expected back in the United States on Wednesday for formal identification.

Pfc. Kristian Menchaca and Pfc. Thomas L. Tucker disappeared after an attack Friday on a traffic control checkpoint in Yusufiya, south of Baghdad. Menchaca's uncle, Mario Vasquez, spoke Wednesday with CNN anchor Soledad O'Brien about his nephew and how he learned of his death.

O'BRIEN: Our condolences go to your entire family. Such terrible news, such sad news. You know, we first started getting word from Iraqi press actually, which seemed to kind of leak the information. And then the [U.S.] military sort of had to come around and confirm what was already being reported by the Iraqi officials. How did the family first learn that, in fact, Kristian, who everyone knew was kidnapped, had actually been killed?

VASQUEZ: Well, we actually heard it on the media. We didn't hear it from any soldier or anybody from the government. We heard it from the TV like everybody else. I was very devastated when we learned it a different way than they had told us that we were going to know about it.

O'BRIEN: Gosh, it must be such a brutal thing. I know the military has said that they're going to continue to do DNA tests on both bodies. Have they told you how long those tests will take?

VASQUEZ: Well, they told us at 10:45 last night they have -- they were going to start the studies and that they would find out 24 hours after that. So that's really devastating, because we don't know if it's them or it's not them. You know, we were confused about it.

O'BRIEN: Yes, you still have a fair amount of uncertainty, I suppose. Is there a place for a plan right now about bringing Kristian's body back and what the plan will be for his burial?

VASQUEZ: Yes, my sister has decided they should cremate him and then send the ashes to Brownsville with his wife.

O'BRIEN: His wife is just 18 years old. Is that right? I mean, they got married in September right before he deployed to Iraq.

VASQUEZ: Yes, ma'am, and I haven't even met her. You know, I haven't even -- I only saw her in the news. We were surprised that he had gotten married.

O'BRIEN: Right, right. I know it was sort of a quick secret wedding from the family. Tell me a little bit about this young man. I mean, we know a lot of the horrible circumstances of his death now but not much about his life.

VASQUEZ: He was a very quiet person. He only had a circle of family members that he played basketball with. And he grew up with my nieces and nephews. And he was a very family-oriented person. And he was the quiet type. And he was very gentle. And he liked to help anybody.

But he had said that he -- when he came back at the beginning of May, I took him to lunch, and he said that he had become a man going to the Army. That he was ready.

O'BRIEN: He also said, if I'm not mistaken, that, you know, he would be a hero. Was that right? Is that what he told you?

VASQUEZ: He told me that "Uncle Mario, don't worry. I'm going to come back as a hero." But I didn't know he was going to come back this way, because he was a hero in my eyes.

O'BRIEN: I think he's a hero in a lot of people's eyes. Has the military spoken to you about any of the details or the circumstances?

VASQUEZ: I called -- I called about what happened, no. They have told my sister that she has to -- they have to put the details together before they inform her. But she said she didn't want to hear about it. She just wanted her son back. And that the military is keeping us posted. There's a soldier -- a sergeant at her house keeping her posted of every detail, that is what's happening with the bodies.

O'BRIEN: There have been some very horrific details about the condition of both bodies. Is that something you want to know or would you prefer, like your sister, to just not know?

VASQUEZ: Even if you don't want to know, you see everything on the news. And they keep detailing stuff that they don't even know themselves. They just keep detailing how the bodies were found and all that information. And sometimes I just turn off the TV, because it's too much information for us. But it hit close to home to hear about it.

O'BRIEN: Mario Vasquez, thank you for talking with us this morning. We're so sorry for you. What a young man, what a special young man. Our hearts just -- just break for you today.

VASQUEZ: Thank you.

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