LINGAYEN, PANGASINAN — Maria Minda Correa was unusually uneasy a day before two US Embassy officials appeared on her doorsteps here on May 30.
She felt like getting sick, so she lay down to rest.
Little did she know that at that time, her only son, US Army Sgt. Richard Correa, was already fighting for his own life in Iraq.
Correa, 25, died from severe wounds in a roadside bomb explosion in Ilbu Falris, Iraq, on May 29. Another soldier, Staff Sgt. Joseph Weiglein, 31, of Audubon, New Jersey, was also killed.
Correa was the second Pangasinense fatality in strife-torn Iraq. Staff Sgt. Richwell Doria of Dagupan City was killed on Nov. 7, 2006, in Kirkuk, Iraq, after being struck by small arms fire in an air assault mission.
“When the US Embassy officials came, I knew that my son was dead,” said Ricardo Primicias, Correa’s father. “They wouldn’t have come here if Valiant (Richard’s nickname) was only injured.”
Primicias is the brother of former Pangasinan Gov. Cipriano Primicias Jr. and son of the late Sen. Cipriano Primicias Sr.
“It took a while before reality sank in for that sudden death. It took a while for everyone to actually realize that Valiant is really gone,” said Ivy Primicias-Nalupta, Correa’s half-sister.
“It was painful [because] it was too sudden. Of all my sons, he was the one who was street smart,” Primicias said.
But, he said, it was his son’s choice to be in the US military, despite his family’s objections.
“All of us—his aunts, uncles, cousins, and his mom—were against his joining the military. But he insisted,” Primicias said.
He said it had come to a point that he and his son argued about it.
Primicias recalled that in one of his conversations with his son, he had told him that he was already getting “brainwashed” by the US military.
“I told him, ‘If you believe you are fighting a worthy war, you think twice.’ But he said, ‘That’s not it. I love the Army. We are well-protected, we have hi-tech weapons, we are well-trained, we have body armor,’” Primicias said, quoting his son.
“But I told him, ‘How do you protect yourself against suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices?’ He did not answer. Precisely, now, as I was afraid, it got him,” he added.
Correa first joined the US Air Force (USAF) in 2000 after finishing high school at the Lingayen Educational Center here.
He and his mother migrated to the States when he was 7 years old in 1989 after the approval of a family-based petition filed by an uncle for his mother.
Correa and his mother, however, returned to the Philippines after four years. He was already in the fifth grade when he studied here.
Primicias said his son had joined the USAF because he wanted to be a pilot.
“But because he was just a high school graduate, he was not allowed to undergo pilot training,” he said.
Correa was instead trained as an airplane mechanic and was assigned to the USAF maintenance section. He was later stationed in Oman for a year, his first foreign stint.
In August 2006, he was sent to Iraq, now as a member of the US Army, which he had chosen to join when he re-enlisted in the US military in 2004.
While in the Army, he served as a squad leader in one of the units at Fort Drum, New York.
Correa was a highly decorated soldier and received multiple awards and decorations. Among these were the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Parachutist Badge, Ranger Tab and several Air Force awards.
Correa’s tour of duty in Iraq was supposed to end in September. But Primicias said the tour of his son’s unit was extended until December.
“After his stint, he’d like to study at the University of Hawaii. He was also planning to marry his girlfriend, Corey Dell of Florida, on Dec. 28,” Nalupta said.
Nalupta said Correa did not want his loved ones worrying about him.
“He earned a Purple Heart [medal] but he did not tell us. Ayaw niyang mag-worry kami because a Purple Heart is given to someone who was injured,” Nalupta said.
But now that Correa is gone, his family members can only console themselves with the thought that Correa died a happy man because he was where he wanted to be.