Columbia’s first casualty in the war in Iraq was a vivacious Puerto Rican native and MU physics student whose dreams were cut short by a mortar blast.
Sgt. Melvin Yamil Mora, who was killed Sunday at Camp Cooke in Taji, Iraq, is being remembered by friends and family as a good son and a hardworking student who hoped to combine his interests in science and television.
“He was friendly to everybody,” Nesto Mora Lopez, the victim’s younger brother, said from his family’s home in Arecibo, Puerto Rico. “He wanted to work for the Discovery Channel in New York.”
Mora, 27, was the second of four boys born to Hermes Mora and Irma Lopez. He first came to the United States in 1996, his brother said, and he registered at MU that fall. A senior majoring in physics, Mora was close to a bachelor’s degree when he was called to active duty in November.
Ted Tarkow, associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said MU might award a posthumous degree to Mora.
“We have begun working with instructors so that a posthumous degree can be awarded to a fine young man,” Tarkow said.
Carlos Wexler, assistant professor of physics, taught Mora in his quantum mechanics class last fall. Wexler described Mora as a “very outgoing guy” who did well in the class, especially considering he was an undergraduate in a graduate class. Mora was unable to complete the class after being called up to active duty.
“He was upset about missing his studies,” Wexler said. “He was a very enthusiastic student.”
Lopez said Mora originally joined the reserves to help pay for school. He was assigned to the Army Reserve’s 245th Maintenance Company as a power-generation-equipment repair specialist, said Master Sgt. Kirk Hutchinson, a public-affairs officer with the Army Reserve.
The Army is still investigating the attack that took Mora’s life, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
Lopez said Mora, a churchgoer who liked to play basketball and draw, enjoyed being in the Reserves. His family was surprised when he was sent to Iraq.
“Before he left,” Lopez recalled, “we told him to be careful.”
As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, 825 U.S soldiers had been killed in Iraq, according to the Defense Department, including 15 soldiers from Missouri.
Missourian reporter Emily Dulcan contributed to this report.