LAWRENCE, Mass. – A procession of veterans on motorcycles and state police in their cruisers blocked parts of two interstates Friday as it finally brought home the body of an Army staff sergeant who was missing for months after being seized by insurgents in Iraq.
A hearse bearing the remains of 25-year-old Alex Jimenez came to a halt in front of his father's house in Lawrence, the scene of a 14-month vigil as the family awaited word of his fate. A memorial shrine with floral arrangements and half-burned votive candles was on the sidewalk.
The procession included van loads of fellow members of the 10th Mountain Division, who were undertaking the final memorial rites for three comrades once missing but now fallen. Jimenez; Spc. Byron Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich.; and Pvt. Joseph Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif., were in a unit that was ambushed 20 miles south of Baghdad on May 12, 2007.
Alex Jimenez regularly visited his father's gray two-family home in this heavily immigrant city, often for barbecues on sultry summer days like Friday. Jimenez was born in New York and his mother lives there, though many members of his family were born in the Dominican Republic.
Jimenez's mother, Maria Duran, peered out of a limousine and waved a white handkerchief to about 50 neighbors and friends, who greeted the procession by displaying American flags. It had traveled on Interstates 93 and 495, both of which were blocked to other traffic as the motorcade traveled north.
The soldier's father, carpenter Ramon "Andy" Jimenez, waved, too, before telling reporters he was happy to have his son's remains back rather than never knowing his fate.
"Thank you for everything and a lot of support for 14 months," he said in English. Later, speaking in Spanish, he said his son "would be proud and happy" to see the outpouring.
The procession then left for St. Mary's of the Assumption Church for a public wake. Attendees included Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War.
An Iraqi soldier and four other American soldiers from the same unit died in the attack on Jimenez's division, and another died and at least three were wounded amid a furious search of Iraq's so-called "triangle of death" in the aftermath.
Anzack's body was found 11 days later in the Euphrates River, but Jimenez and Fouty had been declared "missing/captured" until a person seized by U.S. forces led them to their remains in the Iraqi village of Jurf as Sakhr on July 8.
Anzack was buried last year at Arlington National Cemetery, and Fouty was being buried Friday at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.
A funeral Mass for Jimenez is planned for Saturday at St. Mary's. The soldier will be buried at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y., on Aug. 2.
Attached to a fence at the Jimenez home was a passage from a letter sent home by Alex Jimenez, which said, in part, that he would "promise to fight for the innocent who can't fight for themselves and for the United States of America."