3 Killed in Iraq Are Buried

Times Staff Writer

In his last letter from Iraq, Army Spc. Jose L. Mora wrote about returning home and taking his wife on a tour of the world.

This week, his wife, Biani, their three young children and other members of his City Terrace family buried Mora in a Monterey Park cemetery.

“He wrote daily to his wife. He told her he wanted to put her in a crystal box so not even the wind would damage her,” said his aunt, Georgina Benitez, 36. “It was the most beautiful letter I ever read.”

Mora, 26, was one of six California members of the military killed in Iraq in the last three weeks and one of three buried this week, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.


Other Californians killed were 2nd Lt. Todd J. Bryant, 23, of Riverside; Pfc. Steven Acosta, 19, of Calexico; Pfc. Karina S. Lau, 20, of Livingston; Sgt. Michael S. Hancock, 29, of Yreka; and Staff Sgt. Paul A. Velazquez, 29, whose hometown was not released.

As of Friday, 388 American service men and women have died in Iraq since the war began in March, according to military reports. That figure includes 250 killed since May 1, when major fighting ceased.

Mora was raised in Maywood and graduated from Bell High School in 1995, his family said. In 1999, he married Biani, 22, who grew up down the street from the Mora family.

The Moras were raising three children -- Malory, 6; Damion, 4; and Briana, 8 months -- in Colorado, where Mora was based at Ft. Carson with B Company, 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.


Mora, who was deployed to Iraq in April, was killed on Oct. 24 in Samaria during a mortar attack that also killed another soldier, according to military officials.

“He was so brave,” Benitez said. “He said he was willing to die for his country.”

Also buried this week was Steven Acosta in his hometown of Calexico, where he had graduated from high school in 2002.

“He had just turned 19,” said his mother, Regina Acosta, 51. “I think he was alone for his birthday.”

Acosta joined the Army right after graduation, following in the footsteps of his brother, Gerardo, 26, who is in the Marines, his family said.

Acosta was assigned to C Company, 3rd Battalion, 67th Armored Regiment, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

He died on Oct. 26 from a “non-hostile” gunshot wound in Baquah in an incident that is under investigation, officials said.

Acosta said she had sent her son packages with coffee and sweets, and he wrote and told her, “Don’t worry about me.”


But, she said, after her son died, his friends told her that he had been depressed. “He was very sentimental,” his mother said. “I don’t think he was prepared for war.”

On Friday, a third funeral for a California soldier was held in Tennessee.

Michael Hancock was born in Yreka in Northern California, said his widow, Jeannie.

The couple met in 1995 at a coffee shop when Michael was stationed at Ft. Stewart in Georgia, she said.

They married six months later. Her new husband took in her two children as if they were his own and the couple had two others together, she said.

Most recently Hancock was based at Ft. Campbell, Ky., with the 320th Field Artillery Regiment. He was deployed to Iraq in early October.

Jeannie Hancock said military officials had told her that her husband “bravely defended himself, his soldiers and the government compound” they were guarding when they were attacked on Oct. 24.

In his e-mails, he told her “he couldn’t wait to get back home and play with the kids and go have dinner with me,” she said. “He was beautiful with the kids.”