By Ted Schnell • BocaJump | Friday, April 13, 2012
Hundreds of people, many bearing American flags of different sizes, lined up along two downtown Elgin streets on Friday afternoon to show their respect for a slain Elgin Marine and support for his family as his remains returned home from overseas.
Cpl. Alex Martinez, 21, died April 5 during combat operations in southern Helmand Province, Afghanistan. His body was flown into O’Hare International Airport on Friday, arriving on a flight that had been delayed by weather.
The hearse bearing his body had a sizeable escort from O’Hare to Elgin. Four Elgin squad cars were among the dozen or more vehicles — representing State Police and other agencies, as well as about 40 Patriot Guard motorcycles — that escorted Martinez on his final trip into Elgin.
In Elgin, people quietly and somberly gathered along Douglas Avenue, prepared to pay their respects to a man most probably had never met but whose sacrifice they respected. Some talked quietly between themselves, but most voices were drowned out by the sound of the Elgin Fire Department ladder trucks, parked on the north and south sides of Douglas, ladders up and extended toward each other as firefighters worked on a ladder to attach an American flag between them.
The crossed ladders and flag are displayed each year at the memorial for fallen firefighters. The display is a longtime, traditional show of respect that sometimes is extended to others.
“This is the least we could do for the Martinez family … this young kid wanted to come back and be a firefighter,” Elgin Fire Chief John Fahy explained. “We heard that (repeatedly) from his family.
“His wife (Julianna Martinez) said it (Thursday) in her interview — that one of his goals was to finish his tour and come back and join the fire department,” Fahy said. “It really touched everybody’s heart when we heard that.”
He said the department coordinated with Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda to participate in the procession through town as a “show of respect for the Martinez family and tell them that we appreciate what Alex did for us,” Fahy continued. “I mean, the freedoms we have today are because of brave men and women like Alex Martinez and others who serve in the armed forces.
“I think it was only appropriate we do this for one of our own Elginites who has fallen,” Fahy said.
In front of the Elgin Law Enforcement Facility, Chief Swoboda was flanked by a half-dozen or more officers in dress uniform, all standing stiffly as they awaited the procession’s arrival. A number of other police wearing street uniforms also were on hand.
Swoboda estimated about 400 people had turned out for the procession.
“We wanted to pay our respects,” Swoboda said. “I didn’t know the young man, but I wanted to pay my respects, and the department as well. We have many veterans, and so we wanted to help the family out as best we could … We just wanted to thank him and show our thanks.”
Earlier in the day, city officials used social media to let residents know that the procession bearing his body would be about an hour late after weather delayed the flight to Chicago. The city had announced at midweek that the procession would be at 2 on Friday with hopes of drawing out as many people as possible to show their respect for Martinez and their support for his family.
The governor has ordered that flags in Illinois hang at half-staff through Saturday in honor of Martinez, the son of Enrique Martinez of Huntley and Socorro Martinez of Elgin.
He was assigned to the 1st Marine Division in Camp Pendleton, Calif., and was on his second deployment to Afghanistan. The Elgin man had lived in California with his wife, Julianna.
Martinez's wake was scheduled from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday at Laird Funeral Home in Elgin.
Funeral services will be 1 p.m. Saturday at Life Changers International Church, 2500 Beverly Road, Hoffman Estates.