Family of first Fort Worth man killed in Iraq keeps his memory alive

Fort Worth Star-TelegramMarch 20, 2013 

FORT WORTH -- The memories of Marine Cpl. Jesus Martin "Marty" Antonio Medellin are kept in a simple three-ring binder.

There is no writing on the cover. Pasted neatly inside are pictures, newspaper clippings and emails sent from military bases overseas by the 21-year-old Fort Worth native. A plastic sheet protects each page.

Medellin's oldest brother, Freddy Medellin Jr., created the binder to show his children when they asked about Uncle Marty, the man they are too young to remember.

Cpl. Medellin was the first casualty from Tarrant County in the war in Iraq. He died April 7, 2003, after an Iraqi artillery round struck his amphibious assault vehicle in central Iraq, just 18 days into Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The invasion began 10 years ago today.

"Ten years," Freddy Medellin said. "It doesn't feel like 10 years. I have his pictures up in my house, so I still see him every day. It's still fresh to me."

The decade anniversary of the war has spawned retrospective articles in the media examining the politics of the invasion and the current state of Iraq. But for the families of the 4,486 Americans killed in the conflict, the milestone is a time to honor those who sacrificed their lives to it.

In all, at least 37 U.S. servicemen from Tarrant County -- including 19 from Fort Worth -- were killed in the Iraq war. They ranged in age from 19 to 48 years. Some were recent high school graduates; others were middle-aged fathers.

Since that spring night when a military chaplain and three members of the Marine Corps appeared at the home of Cpl. Medellin's parents, Freddy and Mary, with the news of his death, family members and friends have worked to keep his memory alive, said Simona Medellin Contreras, the Marine's aunt.

Freddy Medellin Jr. still wears his brother's dog tags around his neck. Relatives gather to decorate his grave site with flowers and flags on Memorial Day and Veterans Day. And every day at Boswell High School, from which Cpl. Medellin graduated in 2000, students walk pass a memorial to the fallen Marine containing his picture, his boots and a combat helmet.

"He is to be honored, and I don't want him ever to be forgotten," Contreras said. "Or any other soldier. Because I don't want them to have died in vain."

'It was his passion'

Cpl. Medellin was determined to join the Marines, a goal he set long before he finished high school. He was assigned to the Marine 3rd Assault Amphibian Battalion, 1st Marine Division.

"It was his passion," said Freddy Medellin Jr., 37. "He knew where he was going, and he knew he might not come back."

Medellin grew up in northwest Fort Worth with Freddy Jr. and two younger brothers, John and Simon. They were a tight unit, sharing the same interests in model cars, low riders and music, said John Medellin, who was 18 when his brother died.

He found it difficult to see his brother go off to war without him.

"I always wished I could have gone with him, so we could protect each other, like brothers do," John Medellin said.

Before he left for the military, Medellin took steps to take care of his family. He bought a life insurance policy that would benefit his mother. He started a college fund for his little brother Simon.

The night the chaplain and the Marines came, John Medellin was hanging out in the front yard.

"My mom had told me if something bad happened, some Marines would show up and want to talk to us," he said. "It just hit me. I knew what happened."

Freddy Medellin Jr. was working a night shift when he got the call. He estimates that he sat numbly for about 30 minutes before gathering the strength to drive home.

Contreras, the aunt, said she received a phone call from Medellin's mother, usually a quiet woman. On this night, she was crying hysterically.

"She said, 'He's dead. Get over here, he's dead,' " said Contreras, who still cries when she recounts that night.

He 'will not go away'

As news of Cpl. Medellin's death spread, neighbors and friends organized a candlelight vigil outside the family's home. Someone parked a replica of the Liberty Bell outside the house.

An older veteran arrived with a golden retriever to give to Cpl. Medellin's younger brothers.

Newspaper photographs from Cpl. Medellin's funeral show his younger brother John tightly hugging his brother's coffin.

A few days later, a letter to the editor appeared in the Star-Telegram, written by a Boswell High School teacher named David N. Moerbe. Titled "Marty Will Not go Away," the teacher wrote about the "responsible, dedicated student" who was popular with students and faculty.

Life has gone on for the Medellins. The brothers are grown. Little Simon, the 11-year-old who appeared in the funeral photos, is now in his 20s. Freddy Medellin Jr. said his mother is doing well.

"It was hard for her at first," he said. "She has not forgotten. But she has learned to deal with it."

Freddy Medellin Jr. made the binder containing his brother's photos and his last emails home shortly after this brother's death. He keeps it on the bottom shelf of a cabinet in his living room.

In his last emails, Cpl. Medellin tells his family that he loves and misses them. Freddy Jr. still gets upset when he reads the email he got from his brother, who said he wouldn't be coming home for Christmas -- the last one before he died.

Christmas was also the Marine's birthday.

"I would liked to have seen him one more time," Freddy Medellin Jr. said.

'Keep supporting them'

On cable news stations this week, commentators have asked the question: Was the war worth it?

Freddy Medellin Jr. said he hopes people focus on supporting the men and women still serving in dangerous places.

"I know not everyone agrees with the wars or what the military is doing, but those are our brothers and sisters over there," he said. "Just keep supporting them, even if you may not support everything that is going on."

Contreras said she is proud that her nephew followed his dream and served his country. Recently, though, she realized that Cpl. Medellin would be 31 now.

What would he be doing today, she wondered, if not for war?

"I don't know what it would be," she said. "But I am sure it would be something wonderful."

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