OSBRANY MONTES DE OCA (IN UNIFORM)
PHOTOS BY JEFF BAHR/ OSBRANY’S YOUNGER BROTHER FRANKLIN MONTES DE OCA AND HIS MOTHER, MIRIAM MONTES DE OCA.
By Jeff Bahr
NORTH ARLINGTON –
As she glanced across the street toward her home on the Belleville Turnpike, North Arlington resident Miriam Montes De Oca tried to pretend that everything was still the same. Only hours before, she had routinely walked the few short paces from her house to her beautician’s job directly across the street. Now that her shift had ended she would make the trip in reverse. But something was distinctly different this time around. This time, an ominous cloud of uncertainty hung over her home – a cloud that would prove to be a mother’s worst nightmare.
With three sons in the Marines (a set of twins and their older brother) stationed in war-torn Afghanistan, Miriam knew in her heart that the soldiers standing at her front door weren’t there to socialize. She also knew that when she took those first agonizing steps toward the house, her life and the lives of her remaining family would be forever altered. How could this have happened? Which one of her babies was it?
She pushed fear aside and plodded forward. She simply had to know.
Osbrany Montes De Oca didn’t look like a Marine in- the-making when he was younger. Like his twin brother Osmany, he was slight of build, bony-thin actually, according to his younger brother Franklin, and possessed nothing close to the brawny physique emblematic of the “few and the proud.” But nature at this early stage can often mask the potential that lies within. The best was yet to come.
Skinny or not, “Osbrany and Osmany were determined to become U.S. Marines,” explained Miriam. “Since they were eleven they dreamed about being Marines. They said when they were eighteen they wanted to sign up and were going to do it no matter what I said. Osbrany even told me that he would one day win the Purple Heart.”
As the boys matured their bodies began to change. The reed-thin appendages that they laughingly called arms were now banded by sinewy muscle – a physical trait passed down by their father. Regular weight training only enhanced this physical change. A few years later when the twins signed up for boot camp at the Marine recruitment offi ce, they had not only the desire to be proper Marines, but the brawn to back it up. Their long-anticipated dream was finally taking form.
Back at home life went on as always. Younger brother Franklin played at sports and was thankful that he would no longer be treated as the “little brother,” no longer be called “midget,” or jokingly be “locked into a suitcase” by his older siblings. Even so, he couldn’t deny that he missed them both. Despite their antics and a five-year age difference, they were still his heroes, and sometimes he wished that they were still around. He wondered how boot camp was treating them and how he would fare if put to the same grueling test. By now it was common knowledge that Franklin also longed to be a Marine, just like his older brothers.
Osbrany’s girlfriend, Maria, had high hopes for their future together. Sweethearts for six years, the serious-minded young couple had already thrown a stiff jab at the longevity odds. One fine day they would marry and begin a fruitful life together – she just knew it. Maria could hardly wait.
Rosa Matos, the twins’ great aunt, had always cooked for the boys. Now that they were gone she felt a sudden void in her daily routine. “Hey auntie, whatcha got in the pot?”
Osbrany would ask her while licking his chops in hungry anticipation. She recalled how Osbrany was absolutely nuts for lasagna. “Auntie, please make two lasagnas, one for today and one for tomorrow,” he’d say with a Cheshire cat grin and playfulness in his voice. He’d usually wolf down both servings in one day.
Miriam did her best not to worry, but when her 20-yearold twins were sent off to Afghanistan, as their 22-year-old brother Sandro (also a Marine) had done before them, it was all she could do. Sometimes she’d think about Osbrany’s keen sense of humor and silly antics and it would bring a smile to her face. Like that time when he was three and purposely knocked a bottle of cooking oil onto the fl oor and began to swim in it, just like a fish. Were these aquatic motions Osbrany’s way of showing that he was destined to be a Marine? The notion still made her giggle.
But then Miriam’s fears would come rushing back and she’d think about the cruel possibilities of war. She’d recall in particular that definitive moment when Osbrany said to her, “Mom, I know what I’m getting myself into. If I’m going to die, I’m going to die a Marine.” It was a haunting comment that she could never quite shake.
As Miriam moved closer to the Marine contingent standing at her front door, the ashen look on their faces spoke volumes. She now knew with agonizing certainty that at least one of her boys had been killed. It was Osbrany, the Marines told her in a soft respectful tone. He had been cut down by a sniper on Friday, February 10, in the Helmand Province. He never saw it coming. Miriam was inconsolable. Within the span of a few excruciating hours the rest of Osbrany’s family learned the tragic news. Most were as shaken as Miriam. All prepared for a life now devoid of Osbrany’s shining light.
Photo by Jeff Bahr/ Various moments in the life of Osbrany Montes De Oca, as arranged by family, including Purple Heart (c.)
The body of Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca was flown stateside. His brother Osmany, who had received a 30-day leave, accompanied the casket on the flight to Dover Air Force Base. “Osmany was hit the hardest by the news,” said Miriam. “He shared a special bond with his brother that only twins understand,” she said. Now, as one half of the former “team” Osmany would have to carry on without his brother. He understood that the going would be tough, but he also knew that he had no choice but to rise to the challenge; people were depending on him. First and foremost he was a Marine.
Osbrany was laid out at the Parow Funeral Home, North Arlington where countless loved ones, friends and soldiers viewed him for “one last time” before he was committed to the ages. His burial at Holy Cross Cemetery on Feb. 20 was conducted with full military honors. It’s as he would have wanted, said his mom.
Miriam Montes De Oca wants everyone to think of her beloved son not just as Osbrany, a young man who brought joy to so many, but as Osbrany the proud U.S. Marine. By anyone’s measure he has earned that right.
“Osbrany was a person who saw the dangers of protecting freedom and yet volunteered to defend it, regardless,” said Montes De Oca of her boy’s legacy. But that only accounts for a portion of this soldier’s story. Osbrany also managed to see his dream materialize even though his mortal life was cut short. There are millions of people wandering this globe who would give anything – including years off of their lives – to make such a claim.
A makeshift shrine has been set up on the family’s coffee table. Amongst the remembrances are formal sympathy letters from dignitaries such as U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg (DN. J.), U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and U.S. Congressman Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.). All include a somber passage about Osbrany making the “greatest sacrifice” in service to his country. Standing beside these are picture frames containing snapshots of Osbrany from many stages of his life. Here he is as a fresh-faced lad of six or seven; there he is just a few years older wearing a cocky grin, and so on.
The majority, however, show Osbrany standing tall and proud in his Marine Camo’s or Dress Blues. This is only right and proper for Lance Cpl. Osbrany Montes De Oca was a Marine through and through. Nothing and no one can ever alter that fact – not even a sniper and a sneak attack. This committed young man did what he believed he was destined to do and in the process helped to keep us safe.
A velvet jewel box rests prominently on this table of honor. Inside is the Purple Heart medal just as Osbrany had promised.
You made the grade, soldier, and you made us proud.
Semper Fi and Godspeed.
May we never forget you.