LAWRENCE, Mass. (AP) – The body of Army Staff Sgt. Alex Jimenez finally came home Friday, more than a year after he and two other soldiers were captured amid an ambush in Iraq.

A hearse bearing the 25-year-old’s remains, escorted by State Police cruisers, van loads of fellow members of the 10th Mountain Division and the rumble of Harley Davidson motorcycles ridden by veterans, came to a halt in front of his father’s house.

Alex Jimenez regularly visited the gray two-family in this immigrant city, often for barbecues on such sultry summer days. It has since been the scene of a 14-month vigil as the family awaited word of his fate.

Jimenez’s mother, Maria Duran, peered out of a limousine and waved a white hankie to a crowd of about 50 neighbors and friends, who waved American flags at the sight of the procession. It had traveled on Interstates 93 and 495, both of which were blocked to other traffic as the motorcade traveled north.

The soldier’s father, carpenter Ramon “Andy” Jimenez, waved as well before telling reporters he was happy to have his son’s remains back rather than never knowing his fate.

“Thank you for everything and a lot of support for 14 months,” he said in English. Later, speaking in Spanish, the Dominican Republic native said that while Alex was not alive to see the outpouring, “he would be proud and happy.”

The procession then left for St. Mary’s of the Assumption Church, where a public wake started Friday afternoon. One attendee was Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., a Navy veteran of the Vietnam War.

Members of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y., were completing the third and final memorial rites for their fallen comrades. Jimenez, Spc. Byron Fouty, 19, of Waterford, Mich., and Pvt. Joseph Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, Calif., were in a unit that was ambushed 20 miles south of Baghdad on May 12, 2007.

An Iraqi soldier and four other American soldiers from the same unit died in the attack, and another died and at least three others were wounded amid a furious search of Iraq’s so-called “triangle of death” in the aftermath.

Anzack’s body was found 11 days later, floating in the Euphrates River, but Jimenez and Fouty had been declared “missing/captured” until a person captured by U.S. forces led them to their remains in the Iraqi village of Jurf as Sakhr on July 8.

Anzack was buried last year at Arlington National Cemetery, and Fouty interment was Friday at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.

The Jimenez procession was greeted by a memorial shrine on the sidewalk in front of his father’s home, with half-burned votive candles and a mixture of flower arrangements.

“I spent all night thinking about what it would be like to have him home again,” said Wendy Luzon, a friend who has served as a family spokeswoman.

“Funerals, they bring closure to life, I guess. I’m hoping that for me and for Andy, too, because it’s been a very hard year for him,” said Luzon, who stood in front of flags from the United States and the Dominican Republic, where Andy Jimenez and others in Alex Jimenez’s family were born.

A sign attached to a fence showed an oversized picture of Jimenez and Fouty: “Together they serve our nation; together they DID come home.”

The “DID” was taped over the message that read during their absence: “Together they WILL come home.”

On another fence was a passage from a letter sent home by Alex Jimenez, which said, in part, that he would “promise to fight for the innocent who can’t fight for themselves and for the United States of America.”

On Saturday, a carriage pulled by a pair of Clydesdales will carry Jimenez’s flag-draped coffin through Lawrence before returning to St. Mary’s for a funeral Mass. Among those scheduled to attend was Gov. Deval Patrick, a fixture at the funerals for Massachusetts soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Jimenez will be buried at the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, N.Y., on Aug. 2. He was born in New York and his mother lives in nearby Queens.

AP-ES-07-25-08 1559EDT

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