Monday, August 7, 2006

Brothers in Arms

They could have been brothers. Both were Filipino Americans who lived with their parents in the Filipino suburbs of Daly City and South San Francisco, not too far from each other. Both went to school at the Voice of the Pentecost Academy in the Ingleside District of San Francisco. Both were unmarried and were the only sons; each had two sisters with kids whom they fondly adored. Both known for their infectious "colgate" smiles.

Both enlisted in the US military, each coming from families with a long tradition of military service. Both died in the line of duty within a month of each other. Both were buried in Colma cemeteries, not too far from each other.

Christopher Rose was killed in the streets of Baghdad on June 29 and Nick-Tomasito Birco was killed in the streets of San Francisco on July 26.

Chris was 21 and serving in the 1st Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) while on patrol in Baghdad on June 29. The explosion severely injured him and sent him into shock, dying before a Blackhawk helicopter could take him to a hospital.

Chris had enlisted in the US Army in November of 2004 to serve the country as his father, Rudy, had done in Vietnam and as his grandfather, Benito, had done in WW II and in Korea.

Chris was dispatched to Iraq in November 2005 for a one-year tour of duty, scheduled to return in October of 2006. Within a few months of his arrival in Baghdad, Chris' humvee struck an IED causing an explosion. Chris saw figures running from the scene and radioed his commander for instructions. He was ordered to shoot and he did. When he examined the three bodies, he discovered that he had killed kids.

"It was a justified killing, but he never got over it," Rudy Rose told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. "It bothered him terribly, because they were just kids. He talked to his superiors, all the way up to his commanding officer, who basically told him, 'That's war.' But after that, whenever I talked to him, he sounded very depressed."

Chris was home on leave in the Bay Area over the Memorial Day weekend in May but he was back in Baghdad in early June. Within days of his return, Chris was wounded in the arm by an IED. "He wasn't fully recovered by the end of the month, but he insisted on going back out on patrol," his sister, Suzette, said.

Rudy Rose told a Chronicle reporter that he was bothered by the fact that his son was allowed back on patrol even though he was still recuperating from his injuries. "He had told me before he went back on patrol that the wound was hurting him a lot, and he was using pain medications,"

."He was going to take criminal justice courses and go into law enforcement," Rudy told friends who gathered at St. AugustineĆ¢€™s Church for his funeral mass. "School was always his goal."

Nick-Tomasito Birco followed that goal. After enlisting in the US Marines and serving there for four years, Nick used the GI Bill to study at San Francisco State where he majored in marketing and business. Five years ago, at the age of 34, Nick joined the San Francisco Police Department.

Nick was stationed at the Bayview Police Station, which covers the area with the highest number of reported homicides in San Francisco. Capt. Al Pardini, his commander at the Bayview station, recalled Nick as a well-liked man with a sense of humor who earned 11 commendations for his work. "Citizens often took time out to write letters about the great service Nick had provided to them," Pardini said.

While responding to a robbery call on July 26, Nick's police cruiser was rammed by a van carrying three robbery suspects who were fleeing other police officers. Nick suffered internal injuries from the force of the collission and was pronounced dead on arrival at the San Francisco General Hospital.

Nick was fondly called "St. Nick" for playing Santa Claus at Christmas and for his generosity especially to his nieces, nephews and godchildren on an outing to the zoo.

More than 2,000 people, including law enforcement officers from throughout California and as far away as Las Vegas, paid their final respects to St. Nick at St. Mary's Cathedral in San Francisco on August 2.

As Nick's casket was being carried down from the cathedral by Filipino American pallbearers followed by dozens of Nick's extended family, more than 500 San Francisco police officers, in a sea of blue, saluted their fallen comrade in arms under a gigantic American flag hoisted aloft by the extended ladders of two San Francisco Fire Department trucks .

A Filipino Community Memorial Mass for Officer Nick Tomasito Birco will be held at St. Patrick's Church in San Francisco (at 756 Mission Street between 3rd and 4th streets) on August 9 at 6 PM. A community potluck dinner with family and friends will take place after the mass at the parish hall below the church. Everyone is invited to pay their respects.

At the funeral masses for both Chris and Nick, I felt great sadness for the families and friends they left behind and for our Filipino community so badly in need of heroes and role models. Chris and Nick were wonderful human beings who were cut in the prime of their lives, when they had so much more to contribute to making our world a better place to live in.

They have left big holes in our hearts.

No comments: