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Army Spc. Roberto Causor Jr., 21, San Jose; killed in combat in Iraq

August 05, 2007|William Heisel | Times Staff Writer

Roberto "Junior" Causor wasn't like other boys O'Lydia Contreras had known in Texas.

He listened when she talked. He listened a lot.

He was a fresh recruit in the Army, stationed at Ft. Bragg, N.C., with a high school friend of hers. One day, the friend put Causor on the phone. For nearly a year after that, the two 19-year-olds talked every day. He made her laugh more than anyone else.

By the time they finally met in person, they already knew they were in love.

Causor had a break from training in August 2005, and Contreras invited him to her cousin's quinceanera in Weslaco, Texas. He asked her to help him pick out some clothes so he would look sharp when he met her family. He waited to get his hair cut because he didn't trust the barbers on the base.

"It was so sweet that he wanted my opinion on how he should look," Contreras said. "Most guys don't want your opinion. But that's how he was with everything, and that's how come I stayed with him."

Causor also was polite, impressing her family with his deference and, despite his slight build, a firm handshake. That night at the quinceanera, he took the dance floor to show her family some of his family's traditional dance moves. It wasn't long before he was taking her to meet his parents in Rio Rancho, N.M.

Causor was first sent to Iraq in August 2006, a year after the two had spoken on the phone. Contreras knew he had a dangerous assignment. He was a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division, sent into some of the war's hottest spots, where he was expected to hit targets with grenades while under heavy fire. Sometimes they wouldn't be able to talk for months at a time.

The last time she saw him, he was on leave briefly in March, and she could tell he had changed. It reminded her of how her brother had been after returning from his first tour of Iraq. She would be talking to Causor and his eyes would darken, gazing blankly. His uncles saw it too, one of them likening it to the look that Causor's great-grandmother had in the weeks before her death.

When he slept, Contreras said, he would cross his arms over his chest as if he were holding his rifle, and he wouldn't shift positions. Causor told his family that he had no doubts that he was protecting U.S. citizens by fighting Iraqi insurgents. He told Contreras that some days he didn't know how he could cope with the carnage he'd seen.

"Junior would ask me, 'How does your brother do it?' and I told him just to focus every day on trying to come home and live the next day," she said.

Two months after he'd returned to Iraq, she made a call that they both thought would change their lives for the better. She was pregnant. Causor felt a range of emotions. Happy to be having a child. Sad because he couldn't be there for most of the pregnancy. Worried a little about what to tell his parents. Causor's father remembers his son calling him to say he had "made a mistake," but that he was so excited to be a father.

Causor occupied a special spot in the family hierarchy. Not only was he Roberto and Rocio Causor's firstborn, and their only son, he was the first grandchild on his mother's side of the family, so he never lacked for attention.

Growing up in San Jose, he was the giggling, outspoken boy who loved to play with toy guns and argued, fruitlessly, for his father to let him buy a real one. The kid who never liked to do his homework but who studied hard the last two years of high school so he could graduate early and join the Army. The tough but loving mentor to his younger sisters, Ruby, Mitzy Yareli and Wendy.

The plan was for Causor to return in October for good, to marry Contreras and then move together to New Mexico to live for a time with his parents. In March, he gave his father $11,000 to help him pay some of the bills that had accumulated since his parents' clothing store was forced to close.

"We were starting to talk about dreams," his father said. "It was like we had become friends, more than just father and son."

On July 7, Causor was killed when his unit was attacked with small-arms fire and an improvised bomb in Samarra, north of Baghdad. Causor, 21, was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division's 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team.

Contreras and Causor's baby is due in December, two years after the two met face to face.

She and Causor had debated what to name their son. She wanted the boy to have his own name, his own identity. He wanted to honor his parents.

Now it's certain: Roberto "Junior" Causor III.

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