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December 02, 2008

Captain Rob Yllescas

Yesterday, while you and I went about the mundane business of every day living, a good man - a warrior - finally put down his burdens and walked into the light.

For his good lady that final parting cannot yet seem quite real. It never does at first, especially when there have been so many goodbyes over the years. Captain Rob Yllescas, 31, spent the first 18 years of his life in Guatemala. His father Otto still lives there. His mother, Barbara Yllescas-Brodsky, now lives in Treynor, Iowa. Rob graduated from the University of Nebraska. He met and married Dena in her home town of Osceola. Their marriage produced two lovely daughters, Julia and Eva:

"He was my hero and my daughters' hero," said Dena... "They absolutely adored him, and they didn't care that he was a soldier or not. He was their daddy."

But Rob is not the only hero in the Yllescas family. Dena's tremendous strength and resolve inspired everyone who followed his fight to recover from grievous injuries suffered October 28th while in command of B Troop, 6/4 Cavalry in Nuristan province. This film was taken in late October of this year. In it, 6/4 soldiers on patrol discuss their work in Afghanistan. As Dena explains in this video, Captain Yllescas was wounded while performing a job he believed in deeply:

"He felt very strongly about why he was there, and that he was making a difference."

On Veterans' Day, the President visited Rob and Dena in the hospital:

“It was bittersweet because my husband and I have wanted to meet him for long,” Yllescas’ wife Dena said.

President Bush awarded the Purple Heart at Yllescas’ bed side. Unfortunately, the captain was unconscious from his injuries and could not experience the moment.

His wife said that the moment affected the president.

“He was tearing up and he was hugging me and he told me he was sorry and that he would meet Rob when he was awake,” Yllescas said.

The Ranger had to have his legs amputated due to his injuries. Doctors also had to wire his jaw shut and put a bolt in his lead.

“He was so close dying so many times. My husband is very stubborn and I really appreciate that trait right now. By all accounts he should not be alive,” Dena Yllescas said.

Rob fought back against his injuries, but in the end they proved too severe for him. On December 1st, after more than a month of fierce battling to hold onto the life they had built together, Dena was forced to say that final goodbye every soldier's wife fears:

Well, today Rob went to be with the Lord. Last night his ICP's went really high and they took him for another CT scan. The scan results were devastating. So, we decided to let him go Home. He went very painlessly and quickly. I don't know when his funeral will be but it will be in Nebraska in my hometown. I will let you all know the details when I get them. Thank so all so much for the thousands of prayers you sent for my husband. We now have an angel looking over us.

I don't know what is harder to bear: the tension and strife of battle or the empty silence that falls over the field when the last trumpet has sounded its final retreat; when the silent mists creep slowly over each hill and dale, tenderly brushing each slumbering face, each pale cheek with a gentle kiss?

That is a romanticized notion, I know. And yet it is never the outward seeming that we love; that is just dross, an impurity to be burned away by the heat of violence until what lies beneath - the pure gold - is revealed. That is why bonds forged in wartime seem more true.

Because when it counts, everything nonessential is stripped away and men must depend upon each other for their very survival. People rarely waste time arguing about philosophy or the existential meaning of life when there is a knife at their throats:

Late March, 2003. I’m travelling within Germany on business and get into a taxi. I notice by his accent the driver isn’t a German national. Because there’s kind of a bond between ex-pats, we start talking. I ask him where he’s from.

“Iraq. What about you?”

“I’m an American.”

The anti-war sentiment in Germany is high during this time, so we start slowly. But soon the words come tumbling out as he tells me his story.

He spent many years in Saddam’s Army and fought in the never-ending and bloody war with Iran. But when the order came to invade Kuwait, he’d had enough. He left the country and made his way to Germany, hoping to send for his wife and two children once he was settled.

His wife and children were “disappeared”.

He becomes increasingly emotional, gesturing and saying if he could only find Saddam, he’d kill him with his bare hands.

I ask him about his children; their names, how old they’d be now. He tells me.

Then, suddenly, he pulls the taxi over, puts his head on the steering wheel, and starts sobbing uncontrollably.

“Nobody cared”, he says with tears running down his face. “Nobody cared about us – except George Bush and America."

Rob cared too, so much so that he risked his life repeatedly to free people he had no obligation to; people many in the sophisticated set believe are 'not ready for freedom'.

I often wonder what would have become of this great experiment we call the United States of America, had the French and the Dutch refused their help to a tiny nation formed from fledgling colonies who rebelled against Great Britain. What would have become of us had they concluded we were "not ready for freedom"? For over two hundred years America has been a beacon of liberty and opportunity to a world in which, for many, those commodities remain tragically out of reach.

In the coming days, Dena Yllescas will have time to ponder the life of her husband. She may even ask herself, "Was it all worth it?" Her children may ask her that question, one day.

This is a question that, despite my strong support for what we are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan, I never stop asking myself. In a free society it is right and proper to question ourselves from time to time. But to allow doubts and uncertainties to cloud our vision or paralyze us into inaction is not an act of discernment. War will never be easy. It will always be tragic, it will never be clean in the way academicians seem to want it to be and the cost will always seem far too high. What I keep coming back to is that America is a nation whose freedoms were conceived amid conflict and bitter dissent; strained to their utmost in the fires of battle, and tested time and time again in places near and far. Their names are now a part of history: Valley Forge, Chosin, Tarawa, Inchon, Belleau Woods, Falluja.

Nuristan province. Law and our civil rights, for all our too precious moral insecurities, are worth little without someone willing to secure them at the risk of losing life and limb. We decide, in the end, where the frontiers of liberty and security intersect and that decision cannot ever be cost free. In a borderless world those frontiers are becoming increasingly harder to detect and defend. And yet defend them we must if we are to preserve our way of life: this experiment called America. The cost we pay for daring to be free is our own lifeblood: that of our own sons, daughters, husbands, wives. It is a price that will always be too high. And it is a price that we will never get used to paying: one we should never get used to paying.

But which of our precious freedoms would we willingly yield, now, to be relieved of that debt? Which of them is not worth the price paid in blood all those many years ago?

Patrick Henry once said, famously, "Give me liberty, or give me death". We like to quote those words now. They have a nice ring to them, but how many of us are willing, when push comes to shove, to back them up with the appropriate action? Too many of us, it seems, would cavil and whine and say, "But is it worth it?"

We have a Republic, as the Founders once said, if we can keep it. Thanks to men like Rob Yllescas, we have kept it so far. May it ever be so. And may light eternal shine upon him, and may each of us strive to be worthy of the great sacrifices made daily in our names.

We owe much.

Is Rome worth one good man's life?
We believed it once. Make us believe it again.

He was a soldier of Rome.
Honor him.

- Lucilla, Gladiator

Posted by Cassandra at December 2, 2008 08:41 AM

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"May he rest in peace. He's one of the chosen ones."

As I read your post, I am reminded of a post I did long ago about Eleanor Roosevelt who famously asked the question: Someone died for me. And I must ask: Am I worth dying for?"

Today, as we all mourn for Cpt Yllescas and his family, again I ask myself : Am I worth dying for?

My prayers for his beautiful family, and all who love him.

Posted by: brat at December 2, 2008 10:54 AM

All of yesterday, I kept thinking of my husband and Dena's comment about how her girls saw their father: not as a soldier or a hero, but just as their Daddy. And her husband, too.

And I know he was all of those things, and they were all so, so important; the one no less precious than the others. May God rest his soul.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 2, 2008 11:16 AM

Yes - in one of Dena's posts she tells of Julia praying that she wants her daddy back to wrestle with. Out of the mouths of babes.

Posted by: brat at December 2, 2008 11:21 AM

Well said Cass. I remember laughing and crying at Julia's statement that she will paint her daddy's new legs Peach!! He will be missed by his family and friends. But his courage, heart, and soul will live on in his family. My thankful prayers to them all.

Posted by: Nina at December 2, 2008 11:34 AM

This is beautiful, Cassandra. Thank you for honoring Rob.

Posted by: MaryAnn at December 2, 2008 11:58 AM

...again I ask myself: Am I worth dying for?

You are.

You *all* are.

For as long as there are men and women who are willing to die for you -- you *are* worth it.

Posted by: BillT at December 2, 2008 01:48 PM

The Minstrel Boy

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death you will find him;
His father's sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;

"Land of Song!" cried the warrior bard,
"Tho' all the world betrays thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!"

The Minstrel fell but the foeman's chain
Could not bring that proud soul under;
The harp he loved never spoke again,
For he tore its chords asunder;

And said "No chains shall sully thee,
Thou soul of love and bravery!
Thy songs were made for the pure and free
They shall never sound in slavery!"


He wasn't Scottish, or a young minstrel boy, but you get the idea. He is still a man to be admired....and remembered. We should never betray his memory, or those of the other fallen.

Lest we forget....

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at December 2, 2008 02:37 PM

Thanks Cass. He will not be forgotten. And I'll add my sincere thanks and gratitude to Bill T and MaryAnn. Prayers go out to all of you and to all of our men and women. Godspeed.

Posted by: Mrs G at December 2, 2008 02:46 PM

Thank you, Don.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 2, 2008 02:51 PM

An excellent and heartfelt tribute, Cass.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at December 2, 2008 02:56 PM

Thank you, BillT.

Posted by: Texan99 at December 2, 2008 06:16 PM

Bill's the best.

The problem is, he knows it :p

It must be that 27" zipper of his...

Posted by: Cassandra at December 2, 2008 06:24 PM


Yeah, I still can.

Problem is, I still *need* to -- every now and again.

BTW, remember what I told you about getting more sleep.

Posted by: BillT at December 2, 2008 07:05 PM

I'll try, Bill.

Posted by: Cassandra at December 2, 2008 07:48 PM

Wow. Good post Lady. I'm stunned...

Posted by: lutonmoore at December 2, 2008 09:31 PM

I read something earlier this week about Captain Rob Yllescas.Forgot where.

"A man is not dead;until he is forgotten"

Check this site out. I think everyone here will like it.

See tributes.

Posted by: Mike at December 2, 2008 10:17 PM

It never gets any easier...nor should it become easy. Ever.

Posted by: camojack at December 3, 2008 03:54 AM

Cass, the romanticized version is also true; it is the level you get to when the shock, horror and anger fade. You never accept the loss, but you do learn to live with it and the fact that there is another adventure for that well organized mind...

Emily Dickinson said it best about loss:

"There is a pain--so utter--
It swallows substance up--
Then covers the Abyss with Trance--
So Memory can step
Around--across--upon it
As one with a Swoon--
Goes safely--where an open eye
Would drop Him--Bone by Bone."

Posted by: Cricket at December 3, 2008 08:53 AM

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 12/03/2008 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.

Posted by: David M at December 3, 2008 01:20 PM

Cass: I have admired and enjoyed your writing for a while. This is one of your best. Thank you for it. God Bless the troops and families.
Best Wishes: Ron

Posted by: Ron at December 3, 2008 04:52 PM

This is a wonderful post. Each and everyone of us here struggles everyday with what ultimately may happen to us as the day begins. Will it end with my soldiers OK?

CPT Yllescas embodies, I mean to use the present tense, what is great about America. The desire to ensure that no one has to live a life subjugated by others. Free to make those choices that each and eveyone of us make each day.

His work will go on and we will make sure of it! Afghanistan may not be ready yet for democracy, but we will stay waiting and watching over them until the time that they are. Then we will go home to our loved ones knowing that what we did was right and just.

CPT Yllecas we are still here for you. In your death we carry on yor mission. Surrender is not a RANGER word!

I cannot fathom the pain that his wife and daughters are experiencing at this time. However please know that even though we did not serve with him directly, he is our brother, we stand on his shoulders to ensure that Afghanistanis remain free. His and your sacrifice inspire us to fight harder.

God bless you Ranger and your family. We'll see you on the high ground!


Posted by: VAMPIRE 06 at December 4, 2008 03:34 AM