The parents of Isela Rubalcava, an Hispanic soldier who died eight years ago in Iraq, will remember their daughter with special intensity this Memorial Day weekend.
It was two days before Mother's Day that Army Sgt. Rubalcava, the El Paso-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, lost her life in the Iraqi city of Mosul.
On the day of her death, May 8, 2004, a group of soldiers arrived at the home of Ramon and Maria Isela Rubalcava in Canutillo, Texas, to give them the worst news of their lives.
Isela had been killed by an exploding mortar shell.
She was the third woman of Mexican descent to die on the Iraq war front and the first woman from El Paso to die in combat.
"She was going to come to visit several days after she died. The last time I spoke with her she told me to kill a pig because she wanted to eat pork and pork rinds. We were preparing a party for her birthday, which was May 11, a party she was not able to enjoy. She was going to be 26 years old when she died," Ramon Rubalcava told Efe.
Isela Rubalcava enlisted in the U.S. military in 2000. She worked as a supply technician in the 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division, based at Fort Lewis, Washington.
"In the days before her death, she said she was very happy because when she returned she was definitely going to be working at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, near us and all her family. My daughter returned, but she was dead. We could not see her smiling for the last time," Rubalcava's mother told Efe.
In her four years of military service, the young woman was stationed for one year in South Korea and had been in Iraq since November 2003. She had planned to leave the Army in March 2005 and return to her criminal justice studies at the University of Texas at El Paso.
"She was proud to serve her country, so much so that when she finished her first period of service and went back to reenlist," her father added.
The street in front of Canutillo's high school was renamed for Isela Rubalcava and at Fort Lewis there is a gymnasium that also bears her name.
Also, the musical group Conjunto Halcon Norteño composed a traditional Mexican ballad that recounts incidents in her life and mentions the young woman's death.
From the day of her death onward, her parents have been inconsolable. They speak of her as if she were still present and never tire of telling anecdotes about things they experienced with her.
The couple decided to honor the life of their only daughter by making her room into a shrine and sanctuary of memories, belongings and gifts she received during her life and after her death.
Every year, Rubalcava's parents celebrate their daughter's birthday with a religious ceremony and on that day this year friends, workmates and relatives of the young woman also participated.