By Ann Scott Tyson and Vickie Elmer
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 12, 2008
The Pentagon announced yesterday that it has identified the bodies of two U.S. soldiers recovered in Iraq earlier this month, nearly 14 months after they went missing after being ambushed by insurgents south of Baghdad.
Sgt. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, of Lawrence Mass., and Pfc. Byron W. Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., were struck near the village of Al Taqa on May 12, 2007, when insurgents attacked using automatic weapons and roadside bombs. In all, seven soldiers from the Army's 10th Mountain Division based in Fort Drum, N.Y., perished.
The U.S. military in Iraq said the remains were located after Special Operations Forces captured an individual on July 1 who had information about where the soldiers were buried. The information led investigators to a location west of Jurf as Sakhr, where the remains were recovered on July 8.
Families and friends of the long-missing soldiers gathered yesterday to remember their loved ones.
The father of Jimenez gathered at a veterans center in Lawrence, Mass., with several dozen neighbors, friends and other supporters, including Rep. Niki Tsongas (D-Mass.). "They're coping, they're dealing with this as best they can," said Lawrence Veterans Services Director Francisco Urena, serving as the family's spokesman.
"Even though they're always prepared for the worst, it's a shock," Urena said, noting that Jimenez's father, Ramon "Andy" Jimenez, "is very emotional, dealing with a lot of emotions. It's the last thing he wanted to deal with."
Urena said Andy Jimenez has two other sons in Orlando and two in New York, but he lived in Lawrence alone with Alex.
"It's a very sad relief," said Gordon Dibler Jr., of Oxford, Mich., in a telephone interview. He is Fouty's stepfather. "We rehearsed this every day, every scenario I could think of on how he would come home. This is not what we wanted, of course."
In suburban Detroit, teachers and friends recalled Fouty as a hero, and his school praised his "huge impact" on the community.
Fouty's kidnapping and death "brings the war home," said David Barry, the principal of Walled Lake Central High School, which Fouty attended, adding that yellow ribbons hung around the school and grounds are still there.
Fouty joined the Army in June 2006, after earning his general equivalency diploma, as a way to better himself and earn a free college education, friends say.
"I've taught well over 4,000 kids, and Byron stands out. . . . Byron is a very, very joyful man," said Beth Rexroat, Fouty's high school drama teacher.
A month before he was kidnapped in Iraq, Fouty called his former teacher and caught her in a rehearsal. The phone passed from friend to friend, and Rexroat ended up talking to him later on. It would have been easy for him to complain about the war or life in Iraq, but instead, she said, he talked about how he served with "the greatest guys." When pressed, he asked her to send some books. But before she could send the box of books, he disappeared. So it sits in the Rexroat family room.
His friend Ashley Tremble remembered him playing a soldier who attacks the United States in "The Mouse That Roared." But as a real soldier, he did not talk much about what he experienced in Iraq, she said. He preferred to hear about her life and her latest performance, she said.
"He had the biggest heart and the warmest smile, and he always had a hug for everyone," Tremble said.
The identification of the bodies of Fouty and Jimenez by the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology on July 9 marked the end of a long search that started as a manhunt involving about 4,000 U.S. troops combing the area around the town of Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad. The area is considered a stronghold of the Sunni insurgent group Al-Qaeda in Iraq.
The soldiers were in two Humvees watching an area where insurgents often place roadside bombs when the attack took place. A U.S. military quick reaction force dispatched to aid the soldiers struck roadside bombs. When the quick reaction force reached the scene, it found four soldiers killed and three missing.
The remains of the third missing soldier, Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif., were found about 10 days after the ambush. The three were assigned to the 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division.
Elmer reported from Ann Arbor, Mich. Staff writer Robin Shulman in New York also contributed to this report.