Spec. Jacob D. Martir

Courant Staff Writer

Army Spec. Jacob D. Martir, a native of Puerto Rico who grew up in Willimantic and Norwich, was killed Aug. 18, 2004 by small-arms fire while on patrol in a part of Baghdad known as Sadr City. He was 21 years old.

When Spec. Jacob Martir told his cousin two years ago that he was going to re-enlist in the Army, she tried to talk him out of it.

Martir, 21, originally had joined in 2000, fulfilling a dream he had held since childhood to be a soldier. But that was before Sept. 11. The world was a different, more dangerous place by the time he re-enlisted for four years in May 2002.

"He always wanted to go and fight," Nancy Ramos, his cousin, said minutes after leaving his funeral Friday.

Martir was killed Aug. 18 when his patrol came under small-arms fire in Sadr City, a huge slum in Baghdad that has seen intense fighting in recent months.

Don Primavera, a family friend, said Martir was a "happy-go-lucky kid" who liked to joke around. Born in Caguas, Puerto Rico, he moved to Connecticut when he was young, living in Willimantic and Norwich. He attended Norwich Free Academy briefly, earned his high school equivalence diploma at Westover Job Corps Center in Chicopee, Mass., then enlisted when he was 17.

"It made him proud to be able to serve his country," Primavera said.

At his funeral, Martir was awarded the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for meritorious service. Martir was the 14th member of the military with ties to Connecticut who has died in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"He told his mother he wanted to join and he wanted to die a soldier," said Maj. Gen. William Cugno, adjutant general and commander of the Connecticut National Guard.

Martir's mother Lydia Gutierrez came from Miami, where she lives with three of Martir's five siblings, for the funeral at Potter Funeral Home in Willimantic. They were joined by family and friends, some of the state's highest elected officials, and those who did not know Martir, but wanted to support his family.

"This young man is part of the new `greatest generation,'" said Gov. M. Jodi Rell, using a phrase that has come to refer to those who lived through World War II. "It's their selfless duty to county that truly makes them heroes."

Rell and Cugno spoke at the public funeral, which the media did not attend at the family's request.

In addition to honoring Martir, Rell said, she attended the funeral to show support to a mother who had lost her son.

"As a mother myself - it's awfully hard to express that feeling - but it's every parent's worst nightmare," she said.

It was the same reason Christie Gilluly of Norwich came. She did not know Martir or his family, but her son is a captain in the Army, has served in Iraq and is training to be a Green Beret.

"It's important for families to support families," she said, wiping tears from her eyes after the funeral.

Martir served with Alpha Troop, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, based in Fort Hood, Texas. The division has seen heavy fighting since being sent to Iraq in March and is scheduled to return in March 2005, said Dan Hassett, a spokesman at Fort Hood.

Five soldiers in Martir's troop have been killed since April, he said.

Martir was buried with military honors at Maplewood Cemetery in Norwich. A dozen floral arrangements, including an American flag made out of carnations, were placed on the ground near the grave.

Maj. Kevin Cavanaugh offered prayers and a 15-gun salute was fired.

As Gutierrez, Martir's mother, was handed the folded flag from his coffin, she clutched it to her chest with both hands, then accepted a red carnation.

As she approached her son's coffin, she covered her eyes with one hand, gripping the flag and flower in the other.

Still crying, she laid the flower on the coffin, gently swept her hand across it and stepped back.

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