The mother of a fallen Marine got her wish Saturday when the city of Elgin, Illinois honored her son, Cpl. Alex Martinez, with an honorary street designation in front of their South Melrose Avenue home.
"I'm very happy," Martinez's mom, Socorro Bethke, said, holding her hand to her chest. "I feel so emotional that something was done for my son. Now, I can look at the sign every day."
Cpl. Martinez's family, friends, neighbors, and fellow veterans gathered for a brief ceremony in the 200 block of South Melrose Avenue to unveil the street sign in his honor. Elgin Councilman Tish Powell read a city proclamation stating the city was proud to call Martinez an Elginite. He is the first service person from Elgin to die combat since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she said.
The Larkin High School graduate was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion in Camp Pendleton, California, and he deployed twice to the Helmand Province, Afghanistan, she said reading the proclamation. He was awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal with a "V" for valor for his heroic actions, she said.
Martinez was deployed again in 2012 and returned to Helmand Province, she said. His job was clearing passages for fellow Marines who were seizing a compound when he was killed on April 5 that year, Powell said.
He received the Purple Heart Medal for his wounds, Powell said.
Martinez's widow, Julianna, addressed the crowd gathered near his childhood home on the 200 block of South Melrose Avenue. She thanked everyone for their support. Later, she said the honorary street designation means a lot the family, and "it's a proud feeling."
"We've been wanting this, but we never knew how to take action," Julianna Martinez said.
Fellow Marine Anthony Ortiz filed the application, gathered signatures on a petition and a letter of support from Elgin Councilman Corey Dixon. Ortiz presented Martinez's father, Enrique, who now lives in Wisconsin, with a copy of the street sign bearing his son's name.
Martinez's 9-year-old half-sister, Ilyana, cried during the presentation. She was only two years old when he died, but she remembers him as being "silly" sometimes, Ilyana said, then turned away as she started crying. The family still struggles with the loss, Martinez's stepmom Wendy said.
It's still hard for her husband to talk about it, Wendy said. Enrique Martinez, who has been in the Navy for 20 years, held the sign as he spoke about his son.
"I still think sometimes that he died for nothing," he said in Spanish. "But, things like this make me thing differently about what happened to him over there."
Mike Rosel, of the Illinois Patriot Guard Riders, was one of the 18 volunteers who presided over the ceremony holding American flags. The Patriot Guard has more than 300,000 members statewide.
"We've been with Alex's family since the day he was brought home," Rosel said. "We were there to escort him from O'Hare (International Airport) to his final resting place."
Being with Martinez's family for the special occasion was "heartwarming," Rosel said. He finds that "a hero's family's biggest concern is their hero is forgotten. When we come back to these events, it shows the families we have not forgotten, the community has not forgotten," Rosel said, adding, "if you say his name, he's not forgotten."
This article is written by Gloria Casas from The Courier-News, Elgin, Ill. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.