Having Lost a Son, Family Sees Another Go to Iraq

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A North Carolina family is having a difficult holiday season as it mourns Army Staff Sgt. Misael Martinez, who died in Iraq during his third tour of duty. A bomb exploded near the 24-year-old's vehicle in Ramadi. Martinez joined the military after finishing high school, hoping to attend college later. But even as the family grieves, it is preparing for another son to leave for Iraq on his first tour of duty in January. Jessica Jones of member station WUNC reports.


In Carrboro, North Carolina tonight, people will gather to honor 24-year-old Misael Martinez. The Army staff sergeant was on his third deployment in Iraq when he was killed by a roadside bomb in Ramadi last month. Martinez grew up in North Carolina, the son of Mexican immigrants. He enlisted in the military just a month after finishing high school.

Jessica Jones of member station WUNC reports.

JESSICA JONES: Right now, the Martinez family's modest living room is overflowing with flowers and framed pictures of Misael, a strapping young man with a megawatt smile.

(Soundbite of envelope being opened)

JONES: Misael's mother, Rosalea Martinez, ripped through a manila envelope full of even more snapshots. There are photos of Misael and his siblings dressed in Halloween costumes, on family vacations with grandparents and on their first fishing trip. She pulls out one of Misael with his friends from high school. Speaking in Spanish, she says it's one of her favorites.

Mrs. ROSALEA MARTINEZ: (Speaking foreign language)

JONES: Rosalea points to her son's full, red lips in the photo and laughs. They used to call him chicken lips. Misael's younger sister, Helen, explains why.

Ms. HELEN MARTINEZ: He always had a habit when he was little. He always had dry lips, and instead of asking for, you know, where was Chap Stick or going to go find the Chap Stick, he'd just simply lick his lips and kind of bite it at the same time, and so it would turn like this pinkish, reddish, dark color.

JONES: So Helen says as a teenager growing up in Chapel Hill, her brother was always prepared by stashing lip balm everywhere. Helen says of the four children in the Martinez family, Misael was the most detail oriented. At home, he organized his room perfectly. Misael was like that elsewhere, too. His carpentry teacher at Orange High School, Matt Hamlet, says when Misael talked about enlisting in the Army, everyone believed he really would.

Mr. MATT HAMLET: It was the way he dressed. You know, he dressed not extravagantly, but the creases were in place, the buttons were buttoned, the shirttail was in. He was meticulous about things, and he liked that regiment, that discipline.

JONES: Hamlet says Misael was good natured and popular. He was also a solid student who at one time planned to go to college, though he joined the military first. Misael reenlisted after his second deployment to Iraq, got a promotion and then, his sister Helen says, Misael was sent back to the Middle East.

Ms. MARTINEZ: When we were told that he would have to go again, I did get upset because I was, like, he's already been twice. I was, like, what's the point? And I figured, you know, that it was asking too much.

JONES: But Misael was told the third deployment would be his last. He was trying to get through it as quickly as possible, without taking Christmas leave. Last year, Misael's younger sibling, Israel, enlisted in the Army, inspired in part by his brother. Israel recently received his orders to deploy. But Helen says ever since his brother died, he doesn't want to go.

Ms. HELEN MARTINEZ: And I told him, you know, you can't get out because you don't want to go. You're in there because you knew that it would probably be called upon you to go, to show your support, you know. Be brave, be courageous.

JONES: Israel is scheduled to leave for Iraq in January. Because of his brother's death, he's eligible for an exemption from combat. Israel Martinez says he hasn't decided yet whether to try.

For NPR News, I'm Jessica Jones in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

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