SAN BENITO — Family and friends Thursday waved small American flags in the cold rain as an honor guard carried Pfc. Adriana Alvarez’s casket into a funeral home.
“She just wanted to come home,” Stephanie Garcia, 19, said as she fought back tears outside the San Benito Funeral Home.
Alvarez’s body arrived in a military jet at Valley International Airport Thursday afternoon, more than a week after the 20-year-old Army policewoman was found dead of a gunshot wound in Baghdad.
At San Benito High School, she didn’t talk about joining the Army, said Garcia, who graduated with Alvarez in 2008.
“She never mentioned she wanted to do this, but she just wanted to get out of San Benito,” Garcia said. “She was just a
normal girl, young and full of life.”
Alvarez’s family was joined by Regina Shipp of Harlingen and Manuela Leija and Arturo Aguirre both of Raymondville, whose sons also were killed in Iraq.
They stood together as six soldiers carried Alvarez’s casket from the plane at Valley International Airport.
“We met with them briefly to let them know we’re here for them,” said Shipp, mother of Army Spc. Darrell Shipp, who was 25 when he was killed in Iraq in January 2007.
Within a month, Leija’s son, Army Staff Sgt. Hector Leija, 27, and Aguirre’s son, Marine Lance Cpl. Anthony Aguirre, 20, were killed in the war.
“It’s just a lot of memories brought back to us,” Shipp said. “It’s like reliving it all over — the same airplane, the same funeral home. Time helps you live with it, but it doesn’t take the pain away.”
A fire truck led the hearse that carried Alvarez’s body from Harlingen to San Benito in a long procession of police cars and motorcycles — many bearing American flags — that included members of America’s Last Patrol.
About 15 H-E-B employees distributed small American flags outside the funeral home as family and friends gathered there.
“We felt we had to be here and give our support,” said Art Tovias, director of the local supermarket store. “Being from San Benito, we felt it was the best thing to do. We feel it was a tragic loss for the country. Every time there’s a loss, it’s heartfelt.”
U.S. Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Corpus Christi, saluted Alvarez’s casket as he stood with her family.
“We’re proud that she is one of those individuals who loved her country,” Ortiz said. “We are indebted to her because of her service to her country.”
Cameron County Commissioner Edna Tamayo called Alvarez a “role model.”
“It’s tragic every time we lose a loved one,” Tamayo said. “It’s such a loss. Her whole life was ahead of her. She had her plans that she wanted to pursue and all that was taken away.”
Alvarez joined the military in August 2008 to pursue a career in law enforcement, her older sister Alma Alvarez said.
Last August, she left for Iraq, where she was serving a one-year tour of duty, her sister said.
An investigation continues into the circumstances of her death on Feb. 10, a military official said.
A visitation at the funeral home will be held from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. today, with a prayer service at 7 p.m.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home.