Isaac Thomas Cortes
Private, United States Army
.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)
IMMEDIATE RELEASE No. 1357-07
November 28, 2007
DoD Identifies Army Casualties
The Department of Defense announced today the
death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
They died November 27, 2007, in Amerli, Iraq, of wounds suffered when their
vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device. They were assigned
to the 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th
Mountain Division (Light Infantry), Fort Drum, New York.
"If there was a fence to hop, Isaac was the first to say 'I'll do it,'" remembers his childhood pal, said John Harvey, 29, who grew up in the same apartment building in Parkchester with Cortes and stood Thursday in the very same courtyard where he and Cortes and other neighborhood kids played. "If there was a dare, Isaac would do it. He was very free and nothing was going to stand in his way."
An infantryman, Cortes, 26, enlisted in the Army in January and finished his combat training at Fort Benning, Ga., right before he was deployed to Iraq.
Just before he left for Iraq, Cortes told his
cousin Miguel Cortes that he was happy with his decision to enlist and
to make the Army a career.
Isaac Cortes told him the training was much harder than he expected. Still, his uncle had been in the Navy; his dad, with whom he was very close, was a military police officer in the Army, and Isaac was ready to go.
"This has been a shock for us -- it hit us real hard," said Miguel Cortes, who last saw his cousin several days before he shipped out for Iraq. "He was in good spirits. He was happy about enlisting. He wanted to start a career with the Army."
Isaac Cortes is survived by his parents, a younger brother, Chris, and two sons. His immediate family could not be reached for comment Thursday.
In the short month after arriving in Iraq, Cortes' military honors include the Purple Heart, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and an Army Service ribbon, relatives said.
People in his neighborhood were stunned and mourning Thursday.
"He was a tremendous man," said neighbor and longtime family friend Franciso Mercado, who lives in the same building and had worked with Cortes' father, also named Isaac, for more than 30 years as a maintenance employee for the Parkchester Condominiums where Cortes' family still lives.
"Isaac was very close to his father. He was a good son and I know his father is very hurt right now," said Mercado, 64. "It's sad. Isaac had everything in life right in front of him."
Another longtime neighbor, Doris Pinon, 48, said she cried when she heard Cortes was killed in Iraq. "It was shocking. We had just seen him.
"He was a wonderful person - always courteous.
As a little boy he'd help elders with their grocery bags," Pinon said.
"As a Christian, I know he is in a much better place and that he is no
The remains of Private Isaac T. Cortes, 26, a member of the 10th Mountain Division who died in a bombing last week in Iraq, were back in the Bronx yesterday for a wake at the Castle Hill Funeral Home. This morning, he will be buried after a Mass at St. Raymond’s Catholic Church. So far, at least 59 men and women from New York City have died in Iraq.
Private Cortes grew up in Parkchester, one of the sprawling apartment developments built by Metropolitan Life in the 1930s and ’40s, and attended Christopher Columbus High School.
Reina Rivera, 20, a cousin, said Isaac made return visits special after her family had moved from the city to Milwaukee.
“When we came back, even though he was older, he stood over at Grandma’s house with us and played cards,” she said. “He roughhoused my little brothers.”
After graduating, he got work as a ride operator at Playland Amusement Park in Rye, one in a series of jobs. “Like every ordinary young man, he was looking for things to do,” said Irma Cruz, his maternal grandmother.
The family helped. “I brought him to the head of caddies at Scarsdale Golf Club, and he worked there a while,” said Steve Toro, an uncle. “He seemed to be fine with it.”
Private Cortes’s mother, Emily Toro, who lives in Queens, has worked as a party promoter and now helps care for her grandchildren. His father, Isais Cortes, is on the maintenance staff at Parkchester. His brother, Chris, younger by one year, has two children.
Several years ago, Isaac Cortes met a young woman who had a child. “He helped raise her up,” said Wanda Toro, an aunt. “To him, she was no different than if she was his own daughter.”
Last year, he found work closer to home. “He got himself on as a security guard at Yankee Stadium,” said Uncle Steve.
Asked about his salary at the stadium, his grandmother laughed. “He really enjoyed the games,” Ms. Cruz said.
Even so, he had hopes that were larger than a string of seasonal jobs, said Donna Vasquez, a friend. “We spoke about this, that he wanted to be a police officer or go into the military,” Ms. Vasquez said. “He wanted to be a person of respect and dignity, to not have a street life. He never had any problems like that.”
Around the end of the baseball season last year, he enlisted in the Army and went to Fort Benning, Georgia, for basic training.
“My mom sat us down and told us, and we all got panicked,” Cousin Reina said. “I spoke to him — no questions, no ifs, no buts.”
Back home this summer, his next move was clear: He would be one of the 30,000 additional soldiers that the Bush administration was sending to Iraq in hopes of quelling the violence. First, though, he visited his grandmother in the Soundview section of the Bronx.
“I didn’t want him to go,” she said. “I didn’t try to tell him not to. He went to make a better life. And to defend his country.”
He left in August. “He said it was the best decision he ever made,” Aunt Wanda said. “He spoke to his mother on Thanksgiving Day. He said it was really crazy, that he was very tired.”
Five days later , Private Cortes and Specialist Benjamin Garrison, 25, of Houston, were driving through the village of Amerli, 100 miles north of Baghdad. In July, one of the deadliest bombings of the war had killed between 150 and 155 people there.
A roadside bomb killed Private Cortes and Specialist Garrison.
“Three and a half months he was there,” Aunt Wanda said.
A few blocks away, on Metropolitan Oval in Parkchester, a crew of workers were putting the final touches on the holiday decorations and sound system. The Cortes family apartment overlooks the oval. Every year of his life, from the time he believed in flying reindeer to the days when he fell full-face in love, Isaac Cortes had seen those decorations and heard that music.
Now, in the middle of the oval, near the giant
wooden toy castles and the vinyl Santa Claus dolls bobbing and shuddering
in the wind, was a memorial wreath above a portrait of Private Isaac T.
Cortes: son, brother, grandson and more.
"Isaac was a great individual -- he was a funny
kid, he loved life," said Cortes's mother, Emily Cortes. "He wanted to
be a cop… But once he was in [the military] he said 'You know what, I'm
going to make a career out of this.'"
They were assigned to the 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry), based out of Fort Drum, New York.
The brigade was just deployed to Iraq in September
as part of the U.S. troop surge.
A Bronx family was in mourning Thursday after a courageous soldier, who lived by the motto "Go big or go home," was killed in Iraq.
Pvt. Isaac T. Cortes, 26, was described by his family as being small in stature, but big in heart - a doting father who was determined to make a career out of protecting his country.
"That was his calling, for him to be a protector. But God took him, and now he's protecting God," Chris Cortes said of his brother.
Pvt. Cortes, an infantry squad leader, was on patrol Tuesday north of Baghdad when the Humvee he was driving was hit by a roadside bomb. Cortes and a fellow soldier, Spec. Benjamin Garrison, 25, of Houston, were killed instantly.
Cortes had been in Iraq 31/2 months after shipping to the battlefront right out of boot camp. "He was proud doing what he did," Chris Cortes said. "If not, he wouldn't have been doing it. That wasn't his style. He was not one to settle, he was one to strive and to get more and not to take the easy road out."
Born and raised in the Bronx, Isaac Cortes attended Christopher Columbus High School.
After high school, he worked security at Yankee Stadium but wanted more in life, striving to be the best father he could to his 7-year-old daughter, his brother said.
"That was his life, that's who he lived for," Chris Cortes said. He said his brother had hoped the military would eventually help him become a member of the NYPD. Once he began earning a chest of medals in the Army, however, he decided to become a career military man.
"He wanted to continue serving the U.S. Army
and the fight on terrorism," Chris Cortes told the Daily News. "And that's
what he did. My brother will always be an American soldier."
Carrion, along with approximately 500 veterans, soldiers, and their family members, honored Private Isaac T. Cortes, United States Army1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, Private Jose Velez, United States Army, 773rd Transportation Company, Army Reserve, Fort Totten, New York, and Sergeant Christian Engeldrum, Army National Guard, 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, New York.
“We are here to honor the men and women that have made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom we have today. We owe it to their families, to show them that their commitment to service is appreciated”.
Also in attendance were representatives from the different branches of service, who addressed the audience and showed their support to the families: Keynote Speaker Major General Vincent E. Boles, United States Army Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Logistics, Captain Robert R. O’Brien, United States Coast Guard, Commander, Coast Guard Sector New York, Brigadier General Todd T. Semonite, United States Army, Command & Division Engineer of the US Army Corps of Engineers, North Atlantic, and Rear Admiral Scott Sanders, United State Navy Vice Commander, Naval Forces Central Command.
The event offered resource tables from veteran
organizations and other agencies that provided information; mobile units
offered services such as blood pressure checks, eye exams, nurses on standby;
and coordinators gave counseling on any issues and on veteran’s benefits.
CORTES, ISAAC T
Michael Robert Patterson
Mother & Grandmother At Long Island National Cemetery, 2 August 2008
Photos By Michael Patterson