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Guatemalan Native Slain in Iraq Honored - 2003-04-10

Weeks after he was slain in battle in Iraq, the remains of 28 year old U.S. Marine Corporal Jose Antonio Gutierrez have been laid to rest in his native Guatemala. Lance Corporal Gutierrez was one of the first U.S. Marines killed in battle in Iraq. At the request of his sister he was honored Wednesday in a memorial service in Guatemala City.

In a solemn ceremony at a reception hall at Guatemala's air force airport, U.S. Marines gave the last honors to Lance Corporal Jose Antonio Gutierrez, a Guatemalan who fought and died in Iraq for the United States.

U.S. Ambassador John Hamilton and embassy officials accompanied Corporal Gutierrez's sister, Engracia Sirin, in honoring her only sibling.

The two were separated after their mother died when they were young children.

Ms. Sirin was adopted by a local family, while her brotherd lived with his father. Later, he left home and was taken in by a local chapter of Casa Alianza, a charity that gives shelter and education to street children throughout Latin America.

With the help of Casa Alianza, the young Gutierrez was able to track down his sister, who hadn't seen for years. As a teen he spent one year living with his sister.

Gregoria de Orozco, the woman who took Gutierrez's sister in, says it was a pleasure to have Gutierrez in their home with them during that time. She said that Jose Gutierrez was respectful and ambitious, that he wanted to make something of himself, to have something to share with his sister.

That goal led Jose to the United States as an undocumented migrant. Once in the country, the young Gutierrez lived with four foster families in California, studied, and became a legal resident. Just over a year ago he decided to join the Marine Corps.

Marcelo Mosquera was Jose's foster father during the four years before he was killed in Iraq. He and his wife came to Guatemala for the ceremony and funeral. Mr. Mosquera says it is unfortunate what happened but that Corporal Gutierrez always wanted to do something to serve the United States. He says he did so with responsibility and pride.

While in the United States Gutierrez wrote his sister letters, called at least every two weeks and when he had enough to spare, sent her money. The last time they spoke was when he called her New Year's Eve with the news that he was being deployed to the Gulf.

Last week, the United States granted posthumous American citizenship to Corporal Gutierrez. U.S. Ambassador John Hamilton sat with his relatives during the ceremony. In a written statement he said the young Marine gave the ultimate sacrifice to the adoptive country that gave him shelter and a new life.

At the ceremony he was honored with a 21-gun salute. Afterwards, nine Marines, dressed in their delta blue formal attire, neatly folded the American flag draped over Gutierrez's steely gray coffin and turned it over to Gutierrez's sister. She lifted the triangular package to her lips and wept.

Gutierrez's sister arranged for his burial in a cemetery a few blocks from her humble home, perched on a hillside in Guatemala City.