Growing up, Monica Velez was a mother figure to her two younger brothers, Andrew and José “Freddy” Velez (pictured together above, in 1996).

But her brothers both left home at an early age; Freddy (above left) joined the U.S. Army when he was 18 and deployed to Iraq. When Andrew (above right) turned 18 two years later, he followed his brother into military service and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Corporal José “Freddy” Velez was killed in action in Iraq in 2004. He was 23 years old and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for outstanding service.

Specialist Andrew Velez had the difficult task of escorting his brother’s body back to the United States. Two years later, he committed suicide in Afghanistan. He was 22 years old. Before he died, Andrew received the Army Commendation Medal.
Their older sister, Monica, came to StoryCorps with her husband, Christopher Hernandez (pictured together above), to remember her brothers.

Originally aired July 13, 2013, on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday.

Top: Photo courtesy of Monica Velez.