For Andy Jimenez, May 12 is supposed to be a happy occasion - after all, it is his birthday.
However, on May 12, 2007, that day took on a new meaning of sadness.
Last year, soldiers came to his Massachusetts home and told him that his oldest son, Corona Sergeant Alex Jimenez, had gone missing in Iraq after an insurgent attack killed other members of his unit.
“Today, on my birthday is one year my son is missing,” said Alex’s father, who came down to be with Alex’s mother, Maria del Rosario Duran, and their other two sons, Andy, 20, and Bryant, 16 for the one year anniversary. “It was very hard for me to know on my birthday last year he [went] missing. I think he’s still alive somewhere.”
Jimenez was assigned to the D (Delta) Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division based out of Fort Drum, NY, and four of his fellow soldiers died that day during the attack.
Jimenez, along with Private First Class Byron Fouty, 19, of Michigan went missing that day, and they have been listed as missing in action or captured ever since.
Nearly 50 family members and friends crowded inside Duran’s Corona living room on Monday night, May 12 to hold a prayer vigil and celebrate mass - something the family has been doing faithfully for the past year.
“It shows that I’m not alone,” Duran said. “Everyone here was praying for Alex.”
After the mass, while family and friends enjoyed food and drinks downstairs sharing stories of Jimenez, Duran spoke in her upstairs kitchen - the same place that one year ago soldiers delivered the painful news about her son.
“They told me there was an explosion, and Alex was missing,” Duran recalled
During the past year, Duran has prayed the rosary everyday with her sisters and other family members and friends hoping to hear good news about her son. Military officials have continued to search for Jimenez and Fouty, and, in October of 2007, they found Jimenez’s gun seven miles from where the attack took place.
Although there have been few official updates since then, Duran said she received a letter in April saying that the military is continuing to look for her son - and she still believes he is alive.
“I want to tell them not to stop [looking],” Duran said recently. “I’m very worried about my son, and I want him to come home.”
Meanwhile, City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, who came to Duran’s home the night she heard the news about her son, has been bolstering Duran’s emotional resolve during the past year.
Monserrate is currently working to have a street renamed after Jimenez as well as Specialist Jonathan Rivadeneira, a Jackson Heights Specialist who died in Baghdad in September of 2007. Rivadeneira’s mother, Martha Clark, also attended the mass and has become good friends with Duran during the last few months.
“They are very tragic circumstances, but I think the very least the city can do is honor these fallen heroes in a small way that we can ensure that there is a little piece of their hometown that will always remember them,” Monserrate said.
Two days earlier, Duran, Alex’s brothers and other family members traveled to Massachusetts to participate in a day of prayer and hope with members of the Fouty family.
During the Massachusetts ceremony, U.S. Senator John Kerry addressed the two families and a military flyover took place.
In addition, Jim Wareing, Founder of the New England Caring for our Military (NECFOM), who organized the festivities, arranged for Alex’s best friend and roommate from his unit, Shawn Gopaul, to come down from Fort Drum and join the family for the weekend.
Duran said that while these events and ceremonies are very emotional, being together with family and friends helps her continue.
“I’m never going to lose my faith,” she said.
Ursula Gonzales contributed reporting for this article.