The recitation of the rosary for Pfc. Francisco Martinez Flores, 21, one of the first Marines killed in Iraq, took place in Duarte, Calif., the town he called home from the time he arrived from Jalisco, Mexico, at age 3.
Except for the large number of teen-agers and young adults, the crowd of more than 400 people who packed into the Carmelite Chapel was probably no different from mourners in other towns across the nation who came to honor fallen Marines.
But what made the service unique was the message read by the young man's fiancée, Marisela Campos, also 21. Both the content and the delivery were unforgettable.
In a clear, controlled voice that never once faltered, she read, first in Spanish and then in English, her prepared reflections. “Francisco does not want us to cry,” she said, and she quoted from the first letter he wrote after leaving home: “I hated seeing the tears in your eyes when I left ... I never in my life want to see you cry, only for joy.”
“I would like to share with you something very special and beautiful that we offered to God,” she said. “Back in November we went to church and knelt at the altar before Jesus crucified and gave our promise of chastity to God that we would save ourselves until marriage. We did this out of respect for ourselves and to please God because we believe in the holy sacrament of marriage.
“Francisco was opened to God's call. We went to Sunday Mass together, to frequent confession and had a life of prayer. God walked hand in hand with the both of us. God was the strength in our relationship. Without his being present in our lives there would not have been that authentic love.”
She told of their long friendship, going back to when they met in the seventh grade, how they read the Bible together, how they planned their wedding “and discuss[ed] our future children's names.” In his last letter home Francisco discovered the name Seth meant giving. He thought that would be a good name for one of their boys because it summed up their relationship.
She quoted from another of his letters: “One thing that I can promise you is that I will keep my soul clean. I will not take an innocent life away.”
Before he left for Iraq, he kneeled before the crucifix and promised to save himself for marriage.
“He had a respect for life,” she added. “In the last letter I received from him, he had written on the outside of the envelope, ‘Look up at the sky and smile when you get this.’ I received the letter three days after he died.”
Before the crowd that stood in wrapped silence, she concluded her remarks, her voice echoing throughout the dimly lit chapel: “Thank you, Virgin Mary, for walking hand in hand with me thought these difficult moments and thank you, God, for Francisco's irreplaceable love and memory that will never be extinguished from my heart. I know who awaits me in heaven when my time arrives – not only Jesus, my king, but also my prince. Francisco, I love you.”
A fellow Marine then gave another side of “Panchito,” a fun-loving buddy who was always smiling and who was a top-notch auto mechanic. A cousin recalled, “He used to make me laugh until my stomach hurt. I knew him as a naughty boy and then [as] a strong man.”
There were 1,500 who showed up for the Mass at the parish church in Monrovia the following day. After the ceremony they processed on foot a mile and a half through town, following the hearse and eight Marines marching to the beat of a single drum, to the local cemetery.
At one point the procession passed some teen-agers playing basketball. The players stopped and placed their hands over their hearts. The mariachis were waiting at the grave. After a number of songs, the people sang “Adios, Adios” as Francisco's younger brother placed a shovel of dirt on the lowered casket.
Francisco was the eldest of four children, “the pride of his family,” his mother said. “Despite what people say, that this war is about business or oil, I know that my son went to Iraq for liberty and to end suffering.”
“He kept God in his life and in his heart,” Marisela said. “I know that he is in a better place now. We were planning to be married when he got back, but God wanted something different.”
Paula Shaughnessy writes from Duarte, California.