DETROIT For more than a year, Gordon Dibler held out hope that his stepson, Army Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, would return home from Iraq. Then military officials delivered the grim news that the bodies of Fouty and another soldier captured in an ambush south of Baghdad had been found.
"Every day that he's been missing has been a day of 'what could have been' ... but after hearing the news ... I'm still in shock," Dibler said Thursday after military officials came to his Oxford home.
Fouty, 19, of Waterford, and Army Sgt. Alex Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence, Mass., were kidnapped May 12, 2007, in the volatile area south of Baghdad known as the "triangle of death."
Jimenez's father, Ramon "Andy" Jimenez, said he also received a visit Thursday from military officials, who told him that his son's body had been found.
Confirming the families' accounts, the Defense Department said Friday that the remains were discovered Wednesday and identified a day later. The Pentagon generally waits 24 hours after notifying the next of kin before publicly releasing the names of dead servicemembers.
The bodies were found with help from special operations forces who on July 1 captured someone suspected of knowing where the soldiers were buried, military officials said Friday in a statement.
The two bodies were found in the Iraqi village of Jurf as Sakhr. The body of a third captured soldier, Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif., had been found in the Euphrates River 11 days after the attack.
Speaking through a translator, Andy Jimenez said the news "shattered all hope" the family had to "see Alex walk home on his own."
Lawrence Veterans Services Director Francisco Urena, who was at the Jimenez home Thursday night and translated for the soldier's father, said the family was given no details on the discovery of the bodies or the nature of the soldiers' deaths.
The men were identified using dental records, Dibler said. The bodies of both soldiers were taken to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Dover, Del., where military officials are expected to perform further tests to determine the causes of death.
"It's a very sad relief," Dibler said. "But I know I have to go forward, not just for our family, but for the other men and women who are still doing their job over there."
He said he spent much of Thursday on the phone talking with family and friends, including Andy Jimenez. The soldiers' families had become friends over the past year, and Dibler said he always considered the two missing soldiers "our nation's sons."
"Byron went to Iraq to help people who couldn't help themselves," he said, adding that conditions there have since improved. "I know their sacrifice was not for nothing. It was not in vain."
Urena said the Jimenez family expects to receive Alex Jimenez's body in five days.
"He's very thankful for everybody from the community in Lawrence and throughout the U.S. who have provided him support during the difficult time the family has been through during the past 14 months," Urena said of Andy Jimenez.
The three soldiers, from the Fort Drum, N.Y.-based 10th Mountain Division, disappeared after insurgents ambushed their combat team 20 miles outside Baghdad. An Iraqi soldier and four other Americans from the same unit were killed in the attack.
The soldiers were from Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment nicknamed the "Polar Bears."
"Every combat death is a tragedy, but this has been especially difficult for the families of these two 10th Mountain Soldiers because of our not knowing for over a year of their whereabouts," Maj. Gen. Michael Oates, 10th Mountain commander, said in a statement. "We take solace in the fact that they are finally home."
Jim Waring of the family support group New England Care for Our Military said his group had a banner for the missing soldiers that read: "Together they serve our nation and together they will come home."
"They did come home together, just not the way we wanted," Waring said.
Associated Press writers Jeff Karoub and Ed White in Detroit and Sylvia Wingfield in Boston contributed to this report.