Remembering the fallen

A tribute to troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Robert Yllescas

Killed on Dec. 1, 2008

OSCEOLA, Neb. -- Army Capt. Rob Yllescas -- a husband, a father, a son and a soldier -- was laid to rest Monday in this tiny Nebraska town.

Mourners lined the streets in Osceola to say goodbye to Yllescas, 31. He died last week from injuries suffered in an Oct. 28 explosion in Afghanistan.

Inside the Osceola Auditorium, people sat quietly looking at photos of Rob projected onto the screen -- Rob cradling baby Eva and cuddling big sister Julia; Rob dressed in uniform, a confident grin on his face; Rob hugging his wife, Dena, close to him on their wedding day.

On Monday, Dena's shoulders shook as she sat in front of her husband's casket, holding a folded American flag tight in her lap.

The tear-filled day featured tributes to Yllescas, his family, and his commitment to a country that had been his home for less than half his life.

"We are a grateful state. We are a grateful nation because of Robert's service," said Nebraska Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy. "Our soldiers, our warriors are extraordinary people who are willing to do extraordinary feats."

Friends and family spoke of a man who was at home everywhere he went, and made everyone feel at home with him.

"He was a tremendous, tremendous human being," said his brother-in-law Layne Gissler. "He cared more about people than himself."

Yllescas struggled for more than a month to recover from the explosion, which took both of his legs and left him with head injuries.

That month was speckled with moments of hope for Yllescas' recovery -- a hand squeeze returned, fluttering eyes -- and well-wishers nationwide logging in more than 70,000 times to follow his progress and lend their support on a family-run blog. He never regained consciousness.

Yllescas' contributions were recognized Nov. 10, when President Bush visited him and his family at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md. Bush awarded Yllescas the Purple Heart.

"He was strong as an ox with a smile as big as Nebraska," Sgt. 1st Class John Dominguez said on behalf of Maj. Thomas Nelson.

Family and friends began gathering early to honor Yllescas.

By 8:30 a.m., the path to the town's auditorium was dotted with flags held by members of the Patriot Guard and the American Legion. The intermittent roar of motorcycle engines and the flapping of flags in the wind were the only sounds greeting early-arriving mourners.

After the service, the road to the cemetery was lined with people holding flags, watching friends, family and military members as they passed.

The son of a Nebraska mother and a Guatemalan father, Rob Yllescas spent most of his youth in Guatemala. He was born in Guatemala City on Oct. 7, 1977, but it was in his mother's hometown of Osceola that he would meet the woman who would shape much of his life.

Dena, also a hometown girl, and Rob married in 2000, while he was pursuing a degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The same year he received his degree, Rob was commissioned into the Army.

What followed were two deployments to Iraq -- in 2003 and 2005 -- before he was deployed to Afghanistan in July 2008.

This was to be the last deployment for Yllescas, who commanded B-Troop, 6-4 Cavalry of the 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.

The young man had spent most of his career in the Army. He loved it, Dena said, but he wanted to spend more time with his two daughters, Julia, 7, and Eva, 10 months.

Other survivors include his parents, Otto Yllescas of Quezaltenango, Guatemala, and his mother, Barbara Yllescas of Lincoln; a brother, Christopher of Columbia, Mo.; and two sisters, Jennifer Winterbauer of Lincoln and Natalie Yllescas of Guatemala City, Guatemala.

"Rob was a true patriot," Layne Gissler said. "He died doing what he loved."

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