LAWRENCE, Mass. Hundreds of mourners trekked up a flag-lined street Saturday for the funeral of Army Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez, whose body was found 14 months after he and two fellow soldiers were captured during an ambush in Iraq.
His father, Ramon "Andy" Jimenez, wore his son's dog tags around his neck, while his mother, Maria Duran, placed a cross atop his casket inside St. Mary of the Assumption Church, where Alex Jimenez had received his First Communion.
The soldier's casket arrived covered by an American flag and atop a horse-drawn carriage, escorted by fellow members of 10th Mountain Division.
The funeral on a sunny day attracted hundreds who never knew Jimenez.
"I was leaving work yesterday for the wake and my manager said to me, 'Why are you going? You didn't even know him."' said Sharon Dupont, 57, of Lowell. "You know what? He didn't know me, but he went over there for me," she said as tears ran down her face.
Waiting at the foot of the church steps were Gov. Deval Patrick, Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray and U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., who represents the city in Congress.
"Alex defended our freedoms, and that's why he's my hero," family friend Jim Wareing said during the eulogy. "Alex, your family will miss your laughs, your hugs that you gave to your family, the funny faces you made and the courage you had and the sacrifice you made for your fellow man."
The 25-year-old soldier was captured on May 12, 2007, during an ambush about 20 miles south of Baghdad. Two other soldiers were also kidnapped and later found dead 19-year-old Spc. Byron Fouty of Waterford, Mich., and 20-year-old Pvt. Joseph Anzack Jr. of Torrance, Calif. The attack also killed a member of the Iraqi Army and four other U.S. soldiers. Thousands of troops searched for the missing men; one soldier was killed during the operation.
Massachusetts Army National Guard Sgt. Mike Lang, a Weymouth resident who was on active duty with the 10th Mountain Division until March, stood at the top of the church steps to greet the casket. He recalled searching for his brothers in arms, all of whom had been based at Fort Drum, N.Y.
"I just wish the outcome was better," said Lang, who processed detainees believed to have knowledge of the missing soldiers' whereabouts. "We would have stayed and kept looking if they hadn't made us come home."
Paul Tucker, a former Marine from Lynn, attended with other motorcycle-riding members of "The Honorable Few," an honor guard associated with the Marine Corps League.
Asked why he was at the funeral, Tucker's back stiffened before he replied: "Why take time to serve your country and make the ultimate sacrifice? Wouldn't be anywhere but here."
Anzack was buried last year in Arlington National Cemetery, and Fouty was buried Friday at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in Texas.
Jimenez will be buried Aug. 2 at Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y.; he was born in New York and his mother lives nearby. He lived in Lawrence from age 8 to 13, often visited his father's home here and listed it as his hometown for military purposes.