U.S. Loses First Burmese-American Soldier in Iraq


2005.03.09
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A Blackhawk gunner scans a street over Baghdad on January 26, 2005. The first Burmese-American soldier was killed in action near Baghdad International Airport on March 2, 2005. Photo: AFP/Christophe Simon

WASHINGTON—Wei Pyoe Lwin has become the first Burmese-American soldier killed in Iraq, just two weeks after he refused an offer of home leave to attend the funeral of his well-known Burmese grandfather.

Army Spec. Wei Pyoe Lwin, a naturalized American and member of the Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, died with another soldier, Pakistani-American Azhar Ali, on March 2 when an improvised bomb tore apart their Humvee near Baghdad International Airport, the Pentagon said

"Many sons have died in wars," his father, New York businessman Thein Zaw Lwin, said in an interview.

I feel as any parent feels after losing a son in a war. Many wars have taken many sons away, and I don't want to say anything about wars. I just want to say that I take pride in the fact that my son, as a Burmese, gave up his life in war.

"I feel as any parent feels after losing a son in a war. Many wars have taken many sons away, and I don't want to say anything about wars. I just want to say that I take pride in the fact that my son, as a Burmese, gave up his life in war."

Famous grandfather in Burma

Wei Pyoe Lwin's mother, May Thi Kha, works for UNICEF in New York. His grandfather, Professor Maung Maung Kha, was well-known in Burma as former president of the Rangoon Arts and Science University and died in Rangoon two weeks before his grandson.

May Thi Kha returned home from her father's funeral in Rangoon on the same day that U.S. military officials came to tell her that her son had been killed in Iraq, Thein Zaw Lwin said, adding that his son had declined an offer for funeral leave because he was scheduled to come home on March 29.

"Our son had always been interested in the military, since he was very young," his father said in an interview broadcast March 9.

"He always talked about joining the military before we came to the United States in 1991. He attended Benjamin Cardozo High School and after that he didn't want to go to college. He said he wanted to join the army."

Funeral with full honors

"His mother and I wanted him to continue his education. He listened to us and worked for three years in the jewelry trade, at the American Gem Trade Association Laboratory (AGTA) in New York. But one afternoon he just came home, said he had left work and enlisted with the military," he said.

"I told my wife that since he was so interested—so intense—we should let him do as he wanted, and she conceded," Thein Zaw Lwin said.

Wei Pyoe Lwin rang home the day before he died, Thein Zaw Lwin said, but the family were on their way home from Burma so he left a message.

We have given our son to the military, and our son did his duty and gave his life to the military. Whatever memories we have of him, we wanted him to be near us, in our hometown, New York. The U.S. military was good enough to accede to our wishes and agreed.

The Army offered the family a burial at Arlington National Cemetery, Thein Zaw Lwin said, but they declined.

"We have given our son to the military, and our son did his duty and gave his life to the military. Whatever memories we have of him, we wanted him to be near us, in our hometown, New York. The U.S. military was good enough to accede to our wishes and agreed," he said.

Funeral services were scheduled for Pine Lawn National Cemetery on March 12, and Wai Pyoe Lwin will be buried with full military honors.

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