Friday, July 11, 2008

DETROIT (AP) – The bodies of two U.S. soldiers missing in Iraq for more than a year have been found, their families said Thursday night. The military would not immediately confirm the report.

The father of Army Sgt. Alex Jimenez, of Lawrence, Mass., said the remains of his son and another soldier, Pvt. Byron W. Fouty, of Waterford, Mich., had been identified in Iraq.

Jimenez, 25, and Fouty, 19, were kidnapped along with a third member of the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division during an ambush in May 2007 in the volatile area south of Baghdad known as the “triangle of death.” The body of the third seized soldier, Pfc. Joseph Anzack Jr. of Torrance, Calif., was found in the Euphrates River a year later.

Jimenez’s father, Ramon “Andy” Jimenez, said uniformed military officials came to his home in Lawrence on Thursday to tell him that his son’s body and some of his son’s personal effects had been discovered. Fouty’s stepfather, Gordon Dibler, said military officials came to his Oxford home to break the news.

The Pentagon generally waits 24 hours after notifying the next of kin before making a release public.

Andy Jimenez told The Associated Press through a translator that the news “shattered all hope” the family had to “see Alex walk home on his own.”

“Every day that he’s been missing has been a day of `what could have been’ … but after hearing the news today … I’m still in shock,” Dibler said.

He said he spent much of Thursday on the phone talking with family and friends, including Andy Jimenez. The soldiers’ families had become friends over the past year, and Dibler said he always considered the two missing soldiers “our nation’s sons.”

“Byron went to Iraq to help people who couldn’t help themselves,” he said, adding that conditions there have since improved. “I know their sacrifice was not for nothing. It was not in vain.”

Lawrence Veterans Services Director Francisco Urena, who was at the Jimenez home Thursday and translated for the soldier’s father, said the family was given no details on the discovery of the bodies or the nature of the soldiers’ deaths. Dibler said Fouty’s body was found in the Iraqi village of Jurf as Sakhr.

Fouty was identified using dental records, Dibler said, adding that the bodies of both soldiers were taken to Dover, Del., where military officials are expected to perform further tests to positively identify both men and determine a cause of death.

“It’s a very sad relief,” he said. “But I know I have to go forward, not just for our family, but for the other men and women who are still doing their job over there.”

Urena said the Jimenez family expected to receive Alex Jimenez‘s body in five days.

“He’s very thankful for everybody from the community in Lawrence and throughout the U.S. who have provided him support during the difficult time the family has been through during the past 14 months,” Urena said of Andy Jimenez.

Massachusetts state Rep. William Lantigua of Lawrence, who also was with Jimenez on Thursday evening, said the family had held out hope for a happy ending.

“That does not take away from the fact that he was doing what he wanted to do,” Lantigua said of Alex Jimenez. “We’ll just remember his life, and what a gentleman he was. The community will continue to support his family any way we can.”

The three soldiers, from the Fort Drum, N.Y.-based 10th Mountain Division, disappeared May 12, 2007, after insurgents ambushed their combat team 20 miles outside Baghdad. An Iraqi soldier and four other Americans from the same unit were killed in the attack.

The soldiers were from Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment – nicknamed the “Polar Bears.”

Jim Waring of the family support group New England Care for Our Military said he spoke to Jimenez’ and Fouty’s families Thursday night.

“It’s going to be tough on them,” he said. “They really had hoped they were alive.”

Waring said his group had a banner for the missing soldiers: “Together they serve our nation and together they will come home.”

“They did come home together, just not the way we wanted,” Waring said.

Associated Press writer Sylvia Wingfield in Boston contributed to this report.

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