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NPR: Morning Edition

Profile: Death Of Specialist Francisco Martinez In Iraq

April 1, 2005
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NPR: Morning Edition


Reporter Gina Cavallaro has just returned from her fourth assignment in Iraq. On this trip, she was embedded, as they say, in the Army's 2nd Brigade Combat Team, which deployed from its home base in South Korea. The soldiers have been patrolling the city of Ramadi, which is about 70 miles west of Baghdad.


Specialist Francisco Martinez and I developed a quick and easy friendship, the kind of bond that forms among people far from home. He was a 20-year-old from Ft. Worth, an artilleryman attached to an infantry unit. He went on foot patrols each day, and he told me he loved being with the infantry because it was where the action was.

On my first patrol with his platoon, Martinez never left my side. He took on the role of a protective little brother who watched my back. As dangerous as it was, Martinez kept things positive. He smiled all the time and enjoyed talking in Spanish with me about Puerto Rico where we both grew up. I liked my little buddy and he liked being a warrior. His confidence made me feel safe.

Four days later on our second foot patrol together, Martinez was hit by a sniper's bullet. I turned around as soon as I heard the shot, and there was Martinez right in front of me, lying flat on his back. Horrified and panicked, I screamed his name. A group of soldiers began removing his body armor. His uniform turned crimson. I saw a dark pool of his blood spreading out on the pavement, and someone yelled for me to get into the Humvee. As we sped to the Army base, about four miles away, I helped remove his blood-soaked clothing, while another soldier pressed a bandage against the wound. The bullet had entered his back just to the right of his armor plate. This sniper knew what he was doing.

I held Martinez's hand and I stroked his brow. I gently urged him in Spanish to `Squeeze my hand,' (Spanish spoken); `Look at me,' (Spanish spoken); `Breathe, my love,' (Spanish spoken). He responded each time, and I was encouraged by his bravery and strong will. He didn't want to die, and I didn't want to see him die. At the aid station, the medic said he was badly hurt, but that he was going to live. So I walked away with his dried blood on my hands and arms, stunned but cautiously relieved.

An hour later, I learned he had died, and I put my face in my hands, and I just cried. When I got back home a few days later, I called Martinez's father. I told him about the last hour of his son's life. He told me he was grateful I was there with Paquito, the family's nickname for his son. And there were other things I told him about, the types of things that 20-year-olds do to crack each other up. Just before we left the base for that last patrol, Martinez and his buddies decided to test a new way of distributing toys to the Iraqi kids they met. They catapulted teddy bears off the end of their Humvee's flexible antenna. Martinez handed out six of those little bears the day he died, including one using the new catapult system. I don't know what the kids thought of that, but it made Paquito's father laugh. It still makes me laugh. And it reminds me why I go into the danger zone with soldiers like Martinez.

INSKEEP: That commentary comes from Gina Cavallaro, a reporter for the Army Times, which is an independent weekly newspaper.

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