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thedrifter
01-02-07, 07:34 AM
Man feels debt to fellow Marines
George Watson, Staff Writer
San Bernardino County Sun
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Like a man three times his age, Jaime Martinez scans the newspaper each morning to see if someone he knows has died.

Martinez served his country on three violent tours in Iraq. He made many friends who are still overseas, as is an even larger list of acquaintances with whom he shared a bond of brotherhood forged amid bullets and bombs.

Last week, after taking his morning run, Martinez, 23, trained his eyes on the headlines in the newspaper. That's when he saw that a lance corporal from Fontana - who served in the same 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment out of Twentynine Palms - was the latest victim in the war in Iraq.

Martinez did not recognize the name - keep in mind that there are about 1,000 Marines in the battalion. But as he read how 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Fernando S. Tamayo died in a roadside bombing Dec. 21, Martinez was struck by a wave of emotion.

"When I think of that guy, you thank God because we were so lucky to get home safe," Martinez said. "I know how much my family worried, so I can relate to what his family must be thinking. But when I think about it, I can't really relate.

"I can't imagine losing my own son like that."

His own family, consisting of his parents, a brother and a sister, nearly lost him just like that.

During Martinez's second tour, which entailed being part of a lieutenant colonel's protective detail, a roadside bomb exploded beside their Humvee.

No one was seriously injured, because the bomb had been placed facing the wrong way. The main blast exploded in the opposite direction.

Luck of the draw.

And that is the life of a Marine during these days of war. Martinez's battalion leader made that perfectly clear shortly before they left Kuwait and invaded Iraq in 2003.

"He told us to look to the Marines to our left and the right so we could learn that the harsh reality is, people die," Martinez recalled. "He said, `Take a good look because some of you won't be coming home. It's the nature of the beast."'

Standing there that day, Martinez remembers a pervasive emptiness that enveloped his wiry, 6-foot-tall body.

"He was right - not all of us did," said Martinez, who then rattled off the names of several of the fallen from his battalion.

Now that he has returned home to the comfort of life in America, Martinez is striving to reintegrate himself into society. He lives with his parents in Corona and recently landed his "dream job" as an officer with the Pomona Police Department.

Still, his thoughts often trail back to the foreboding land of Iraq. There are the historic moments he will never forget, such as standing in a Baghdad square while his fellow Marines pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein.

But when he talks about Iraq, his eyes often go vacant. He is clearly somewhere else, perhaps remembering a particularly awful moment. He later explains that there are many such moments stowed far away in his memory, but he doesn't talk about them.

Martinez now awaits word on when Tamayo will be buried. On that day, he will dress in his uniform and head to the ceremony.

"I owe it to him," Martinez said. "I don't know what I'll say to the family. But I have to go.

"He was walking my same footsteps."

Ellie