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Conn. soldier wrote he'd be home for holiday

Before Iraq leave, died in bomb blast

HARTFORD -- In his final letter home from Iraq, Staff Sergeant Henry E. Irizarry told his wife to make plans for a family Christmas because he was going to be on leave.

Instead, Jessica Irizarry is making funeral arrangements. Her husband died Friday when a bomb exploded near his vehicle in Taji, Army officials said yesterday.

Irizarry, 38, left his Waterbury home in October, his wife said. A 20-year Army veteran, he was looking forward to retirement.

"I worried, of course, but he said nothing was going to happen," she said yesterday. "He was going to come back. Everything was going to be OK."

Born in Puerto Rico, Irizarry moved to the Bronx with his family when he was 7, his wife said.

Jessica and Henry met through a mutual friend. Henry pestered the friend for weeks to get them together again. She agreed to dinner and immediately noticed his green eyes, her favorite feature on her husband-to-be.

"When he met his wife, he changed his ways a bit and became a family man," said Sergeant First Class Raul Colon Jr., a friend for 15 years. "He loved his wife. He loved his kids."

The family moved to Connecticut in 1997 in search of an easier life, Jessica Irizarry said. They were married for seven years. He had four children and a stepdaughter, family members said.

A factory worker, he loved movies and family vacations to Disney World.

Irizarry was assigned to the First Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment, based in New York City.

"It is so sad to hear of the death of another soldier from Connecticut," Governor M. Jodi Rell said. "We are seeing once again that war is taking a heavy toll on our nation's service men and women, as well as their families and friends."

Henry Irizarry's mother lives in Waterbury, his father in Puerto Rico.

The Connecticut flag was already at half-staff in honor of Army Lieutenant Colonel Michael J. McMahon, who died Nov. 27 in a plane crash in Bamiyan, Afghanistan. Rell has ordered state flags to remain at half-staff until both soldiers are buried. Details of funeral arrangements have not been announced for either McMahon or Irizarry. Jessica Irizarry said she thinks her husband's body will be home by the end of the week.

At least 21 people with Connecticut ties have died in Iraq or Afghanistan since 2002.

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