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The Impact of War series is made possible by generous contributions from Richard P. Brown, Jr. and Suzanne and Ronald Naples.



The Impact of War


A story of love, war and grief for a young family in Philadelphia.

February 18, 2011

Today we bring you a story of love and war from US National Guard Specialist Ivan Lopez, and his wife Jadira. As part of our Impact of War Series, WHYY's Mara Zepeda reports.


Pictured above: Ivan and Jadira Lopez on Valentine's day of their senior year in high school in 2007, before Ivan Lopez deployed to Afghanistan. (Courtesy of Jadira Lopez)



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HOST INTRO: Today we bring you a story of love and war from US National Guard Specialist Ivan Lopez, and his wife Jadira. As part of our Impact of War Series, WHYY's Mara Zepeda reports.

ZEPEDA: Ivan Lopez deployed to Afghanistan in December 2007. When he returned from combat 11 months later, his wife Jadira says he didn't seem like the same person.

JADIRA: But his mom had told me that he said that he felt like nobody treated him the same. That he felt like he was an animal.

ZEPEDA: This young couple's love story starts in happier times, when Jadira was a little girl racing the neighborhood boys in Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.

JADIRA: You know how the streets over here are long, you know? In Puerto Rico the blocks are smaller. We all ran barefooted when we were racing each other. Uno. Dos. Tres! And then you know and we run! (LAUGHS)

ZEPEDA: When she was ten years old, Jadira moved to Philadelphia. She started running track at Thomas Edison High School. She was fast, but not as fast as Ivan Lopez.

JADIRA: Always, I was always right behind him...never catch-up. (LAUGHS). I don't know. One day I was weightlifting and I just started looking at him and this attraction just came over me. A week after we went on our first date to the movies and we went to the cheese steak place right next to it.

ZEPEDA: On their first Valentine's Day they wore red shirts, skipped school, went ice-skating, and had their photos taken at a store at the mall. By then, Ivan had already enlisted. By their senior prom, Jadira was pregnant.

JADIRA: He bent down and he told me 'Jadira? Will you marry me.' I told him, 'yes I'll marry you.'

ZEPEDA: Two weeks after their daughter Maya was born, Ivan deployed to Afghanistan. In Philadelphia, Jadira went to school to become a medical assistant during the day. At night, she worked at a dollar store. Her mother and mother-in-law looked after Maya. When Ivan returned in November 2008, he found a job at Amtrak. But things were hard at home.

JADRIA: Well we started arguing from the beginning. After New Years 2010 that's when it really got out of hand. We had some pretty strong arguments.

ZEPEDA: Ivan started to distrust his family and Jadira. He was quick to lose his temper and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress. In the last few months, the couple separated and Jadira moved back home. On January 27th Ivan called.

JADIRA: I remember the last thing he told me was "I love you. Tell the kids I love 'em." The next day I tried calling him. I said maybe he's just ignoring my calls. Like I knew something was wrong but I wanted to be in denial. I kept calling him and calling him. I just kept getting desperate.

ZEPEDA: When she pulled up at their old house and saw his car parked outside, Jadira had a terrible feeling. When she went inside the house, she saw the worst. Ivan had hanged himself.

JADIRA: I come out the car. I went to see him. It's already too late. I called the cops. My step dad had got him down. Tried to give him CPR to see if he would come back. And he didn't. (CRIES)

(AMBI: PASTOR SINGING)

ZEPEDA: On January 31st, the same pastor who married Jadira and Ivan led his funeral service. He was 23 years old.

(AMBI: 21GUN SALUTE)

(AMBI: TAPS)

(AMBI: FLIPPING)

ZEPEDA: Jadira flips through Ivan's scrapbook: her prom corsage, movie tickets, the Valentine's Day photo from four years ago. She takes out the ice skating pass, flips it over and finds a message scrawled on the back.

JADIRA: It says. "My first Valentines for Jadira. Her first ice skating experience with me." (BABY NOISES.) I never knew he did that.

ZEPEDA: According to the National Guard, Ivan Lopez was the 14th Pennsylvania Guardsman to have committed suicide since 2003. Nationally, the number of off-duty Army Guard soldiers who have committed suicide has nearly doubled from 62 in 2009, to 114 last year. Ivan leaves behind 3-year-old Maya and 7 month-old Adrian.

JADIRA: I know yesterday she told me 'Papi,' - she'd seen the photo of him. 'Papi misses you up there.'

ZEPEDA: I'm Mara Zepeda, for WHYY News.

HOST OUTRO: To see the Valentine's Day photo of Ivan and Jadira and for more stories in the series, visit www.whyy.org/impactofwar.

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