In a scene becoming tragically familiar to Tracy residents, a gathering of 200 friends, family members and fellow soldiers came together to bid farewell Thursday to a Tracy soldier who died last week during the ongoing conflict in Iraq.
Pfc. Jesse Martinez, 20, the fourth Tracy soldier killed in the war, was laid to rest as a lone piper played the "Star Spangled Banner" and "Amazing Grace."
The 2002 Duncan-Russell High School graduate was remembered as a man who loved his family, the Oakland Raiders and life, and whose dedication as a soldier and future plan to become a police officer were cut short too soon.
"I just hope someday the Iraqi people understand the tremendous sacrifice Jesse made for them," said his uncle, Jeff Reed, an Alameda County Sheriff's deputy.
A member of a Stryker unit based out of Fort Lewis, Wash., Martinez was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Good Conduct Medal.
Martinez had been in Iraq since November and was due to come home for a visit soon. He died when the Stryker vehicle he was in swerved to miss another vehicle and overturned. The accident in the northern Iraq city of Talafar on June 14 also killed Cpl. Demetrius Rice.
Lt. Gen. Edward Soriano, commander of Fort Lewis, flew from Washington state with five others to present his condolences to Martinez's family - his parents, Jan Martinez, of Tracy, and Manny Martinez, of Modesto, older brother Ralph and older sister Teresa.
"He represented the very best our country and our army has to offer," Soriano told family and friends gathered at Fry Memorial Chapel. "You ought to be proud for what he did."
Col. Herman Kemp, a military chaplain, officiated the one-hour ceremony with the Rev. Arlene K. Nehring of Eden United Church of Christ in Hayward, the family church of Jan Martinez.
Kemp said Jesse Martinez, who was born in Germany while his father served in the Army, was willing to give his life because of his faith in God.
"Jess taught us how to live," Kemp said, before an honor guard carried the draped coffin to a waiting hearse.
Ralph Martinez, who wore a Raiders jersey in honor of his brother, followed the hearse while driving his brother's beige F-150 truck, with family friends in back. Many of them wore Raiders gear as well.
Those gathered around the coffin sobbed as the Veteran Honors Guard shot three volleys and played "Taps."
Soriano presented the flag to Jesse's mother, Jan Martinez, who sat quietly near Manny Martinez and their two children, Ralph and Teresa. Manny and Teresa Martinez wore new T-shirts that read "In Loving Memory Jesse J. Martinez."
Lt. Jeremy Bryan and Maj. Jeff Sabatine traveled with Soriano from Washington, where a memorial took place this week for the dead soldiers. They said base soldiers took the deaths hard.
The memorials bring a little bit of closure, Sabatine said.
"We pick up the pieces and you move on," he said. "But you don't forget."
As the soldiers left, longtime friend Lura Holderegger, said she believes the military, family and friends have provided great support to Jan Martinez.
"I'm sure she has her moments, but I think the military has been a great support to her," she said. "She's a strong lady."
Reed, Jan Martinez' brother, spoke on behalf of his sister and thanked the military, the press and the community.
His nephew, he said while holding a photo of Jesse Martinez in desert fatigues, was "a wonderful young man."
"Jesse will never be forgotten."