By Mark Berman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
On May 12, 2007, an Army patrol south of Baghdad was attacked by enemy forces using automatic fire and explosives. When the fighting was done, four U.S. soldiers were dead, and three were missing.
The body of one missing soldier was found in less than two weeks, but the search for the other two lasted almost 14 months before the remains of Spec. Byron W. Fouty, 19, and Staff Sgt. Alex R. Jimenez, 25, were located and identified in July.
The two soldiers had separate burials last summer -- Fouty in San Antonio and Jiminez in New York -- but their long journey did not come to an end until yesterday, when remains that could not be positively identified received a group burial in Arlington National Cemetery.
More than 70 mourners gathered in Section 60 of Arlington to say goodbye to Jimenez and Fouty.
Relatives seated at the front of the assembled mourners received condolences from military officers and officials. Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, a regular presence at Arlington burials, knelt to speak to Fouty's mother, Hilary Meunier, and Jimenez's wife, Yaderlin Jimenez.
"It's a very sad relief," Fouty's stepfather, Gordon Dibler Jr. of Oxford, Mich., told The Washington Post in July. "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."
During Jimenez's funeral Mass in Lawrence, Mass., in July, his father talked about a letter Jimenez had written as a teenager asking for information about joining the Army. The letter spoke of wanting to make a difference by helping the innocent.
"We are witnessing part of that letter. The whole world knows about Alex. He wanted everybody to know about him and he wanted to make a difference, which he did," Ramon "Andy" Jimenez said, according to the Eagle-Tribune newspaper in North Andover, Mass.
The patrol's mission May 12, 2007, was to prevent the enemy from placing roadside bombs in an area of Al Taqa known for the devices. The seven U.S. soldiers who ultimately died as a result of the attack were assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y.
The four U.S. soldiers killed in the attack were Sgt. 1st Class James D. Connell Jr., 40, of Lake City, Tenn.; Pfc. Daniel W. Courneya, 19, of Nashville, Mich.; Cpl. Christopher E. Murphy, 21, of Lynchburg, Va.; and Sgt. Anthony Schober, 23, of Reno, Nev. Also killed in the attack was an Iraqi soldier, Sabah Barak.
The search for the three missing soldiers began immediately. The search involved dogs, trucks with speakers, unmanned aerial vehicles, law enforcement advisers and helicopters that dropped leaflets offering rewards for information, according to the public affairs office at Fort Drum. More than 4,000 U.S. and Iraqi soldiers took part in the search.
Less than two weeks later, the body of Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack, 20, of Torrance, Calif., was found in the Euphrates River several miles from the ambush site.
At least two soldiers were killed during the search: Sgt. Steven M. Packer, 23, of Clovis, Calif., was killed May 17, 2007, while on dismounted patrol near Rushdi Mullah; and Pfc. Matthew A. Bean, 22, of Pembroke, Mass., died of wounds suffered May 19, 2007, when his patrol came under small-arms fire near Lutifiyah.
On June 4, 2007, a video allegedly showing the two missing men's military identification badges appeared online with a narrator saying the soldiers were dead.
The soldiers' remains were recovered July 8 after Special Operations Forces on July 1 captured an individual who provided information that led investigators to the site several kilometers west of Jurf as-Sakhr, according to Fort Drum.
The Defense Department announced that the Armed Forces medical examiner had positively identified the remains July 10, 2008. The next day the Defense Department announced the deaths of Jimenez and Fouty.
Jimenez, of Lawrence, Mass., had served a previous tour of duty in Iraq from June 2004 to June 2005. He and Fouty, of Waterford, Mich. deployed to South Baghdad with their unit in August 2006.
Yesterday, the two soldiers joined Anzack, Connell and Murphy, all of whom were previously buried in Section 60. Fouty and Jimenez were the 453rd and 454th casualties from Iraq buried at Arlington.
Shari Lawrence, deputy public affairs officer at Army Human Resources Command, said that the remains found in July were positively identified as those of the two soldiers but that some remains could not be identified as belonging to either.
When remains cannot be individually identified and group burials are held, they tend to be held at Arlington, because it is "hallowed ground" for all Americans, she said.
"You reach a point where you say, we've done everything we can, and that's the best we can do," Lawrence said.