Before U.S. Marine Cpl. Alex Martinez was deployed to Afghanistan, he gave his wedding band to his wife, Julianna, to be sure it wouldn't get damaged or lost.
Now, Julianna Martinez wears her late husband's wedding band around her neck, along with a locket given to her by her sister and engraved with his photo and his last post on Julianna's Facebook page: "I loved you yesterday, I love you still. I always have and I always will."
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Alex Martinez, 21, of Elgin, died April 5 during combat operations in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif. The exact circumstances of his death will be disclosed at a later date, U.S. Marine Gunnery Sgt. Lloyd Beckford said.
On Thursday, Julianna, 22, remembered her husband as a kind, funny and loving young man who kissed her goodbye every morning before going to work. After his service, he wanted to start a family and become a firefighter, she said.
"He was basically loved by everybody, everybody he met," said Julianna, who met Alex at Larkin High School in Elgin when she was a senior and he was a shy sophomore.
Alex, who was passionate about mixed martial arts and working out, persuaded his mother to give permission for him to sign up for the Marines when he was 17, Julianna said. When recruiters came to Larkin, "he would do push-ups just to get a T-shirt or a bottle of water or a key chain," she remembered.
Alex worked extra hard to graduate a semester early in 2009, Julianna said. The two married Dec. 17, 2008, at the court house in Geneva, three days after Alex turned 18. "We knew boot camp was going to separate us, so we decided to get married real quick before he left," she said, later adding, "As long as it kept us together, that's what we focused on."
Alex left Camp Pendleton on Feb. 28 for his second deployment to Afghanistan, Julianna said. The couple kept in touch via Facebook and spoke on the phone about three times a week; they last talked two days before his death, she said. "Every word is more meaningful than just to argue about, 'You didn't pay this, or 'You forgot about this,'" she said.
This would have been Alex's last year in the Marines, Julianna said. "He was ready to be a civilian and live our lives, and be normal," she said.
Alex Martinez is survived by his mother, Socorro Bethke, and his stepfather, Jim Bethke, of Elgin, and by his father, Enrique Martinez of Huntley. He was the second oldest of seven siblings. Funeral services are scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at Life Changers International Church, 2500 Beverly Road in Hoffman Estates.