Elgin-area residents salute Cpl. Martinez as Marine’s body returns home
By Emily Mc Farlan email@example.com April 13, 2012 6:32PM
Citizens gather along Douglas Avenue in Elgin Friday during a procession in honor of USMC Cpl. Alex Martinez of Elgin, who was killed during combat operations in Afghanistan last week. April 13, 2012 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 15, 2012 9:16PM
ELGIN – Just before 3 p.m. Friday, the first sirens echoed in downtown Elgin. Minutes later, the flashing lights appeared at the end of Douglas Avenue, and Arnold Bochum of Elgin jumped to his feet.
“Here it is. It’s coming. It’s here,” said Bochum, a member of the South Elgin VFW Post who served in the Army from 1953 to 1956.
It was the procession of Patriot Guard motorcyclists, of Elgin fire and police department vehicles, of SUVs carrying somber-faced Marines and family clutching tissues to their faces. It was the procession bringing Cpl. Alex Martinez home.
Cpl. Martinez, 21, was killed Thursday, April 5, during combat operations in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan.
An estimated 300-plus area residents lined Douglas Avenue in front of the Elgin Police Department on Friday to thank him and his family, including his 22-year-old widow, Julianna Martinez, for that sacrifice. More than 1,000 turned out for the visitation following at Laird Funeral Home in Elgin, the funeral home estimated.
“We’re a small town in the middle of the country, and it really has brought the conflicts home to us. It really makes us a part, in an unfortunate way, of the international scene,” Elgin Mayor Dave Kaptain said.
“We have many men and women serving in the armed forces. We try to honor them as best we can. This brings it to another level. This is the ultimate our community can do — to give one of our own.”
Police came out to pay their respects, saluting as the hearse carrying Cpl. Martinez’s body passed by the department and under the crossed ladders of two fire engines at Dexter Court. Others streamed from city hall and downtown office buildings.
They held yellow balloons and American and Marine Corps flags of all sizes. They held neon-colored posterboard signs that said “Thank you! Cpl. Alex Martinez,” and red-white-and-blue, cross-shaped signs that said “God bless America.”
Daniella Mejia, 15, of Elgin draped a large American flag over the ramp at the police station. She burst into tears as she talked about her cousin Julianna Martinez.
“When we were little, she took care of us, so we want to be here to take care of her,” Daniella said.
Larkin High School student Austin Rakow, 16, said he was a freshman when Cpl. Martinez was a senior, part of the class of 2009 at the west-side Elgin school. It had held a moment of silence Thursday, Austin said, but none of his friends really had talked about losing the Marine — “not really something you gossip about.”
His mom Kelly Rakow, along with Elizabeth Oine and Mary Anne Briguglio, all of Elgin, had picked up their kids early from school to come downtown. They ranged in age from a 3-year-old to Austin. They wore royal blue Larkin sweatshirts and Cub Scout uniforms and waved American flags.
“It feels like something they should see — what they do for us,” Oine said.
Julianna Martinez said Thursday, speaking publicly about her husband’s death for the first time, “I am proud.”
She knew her husband had wanted to join the Marines; they had married just three days after he turned 18 in December 2008, after he had graduated early from Larkin, knowing his service would separate them, she said.
But, she said Thursday, “I just didn’t know what came with being in the military life and everything. You learn everything that goes along with it as you go.”
The visitation followed the procession from O’Hare International Airport, from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at Laird Funeral Home, 310 S. State St., Elgin. A funeral service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at Life Changers International Church, 2500 Beverly Road, Hoffman Estates.
The city of Elgin also hopes to honor Cpl. Martinez at a future city council meeting, whenever his family feels it is “the right time,” Kaptain said.
“It defines us as a community,” he said.