ROCHESTER — Javier Ortiz-Rivera, a staff sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps, died Nov. 16, 2010, while serving in Afghanistan.
Mr. Ortiz-Rivera died while conducting combat operations in Helmand Province, according to information from the Second Marine Division public affairs office. He was 26.
His death is a tragic loss not only for his family and the local Hispanic community but for the entire community, said Father Vincent Panepinto, sacramental minister at Our Lady of the Americas Parish. On Nov. 22, Gov. David Paterson ordered that all flags in the state be flown at half staff in Mr. Ortiz-Rivera’s honor.
"It’s a situation that grieves all of us very deeply," Father Panepinto remarked. "One of our sons has been lost in this war. One of our people sacrificed his life."
More than 500 people attended Mr. Ortiz-Rivera’s funeral Mass Nov. 24. The outpouring of support has been incredible both in Rochester and North Carolina, where Mr. Ortiz-Rivera was stationed with his wife and three children, said his brother, Orlando Ortiz. He that said members of his brother’s church in North Carolina brought food and comfort to the family daily.
Ortiz said that the support from people in Rochester, North Carolina and Dallas, where his brother’s wife, Veronica, is from, "has truly been overwhelming. … It really shows what a special person he was during the time he was able to share with us."
Mr. Ortiz-Rivera moved to Rochester from Puerto Rico when he was 7 and enlisted in the Marine Corps following graduation from Edison Tech High School in 2002, his brother said. Participating in the Junior ROTC program in high school sparked Mr. Ortiz-Rivera’s interest in the military, he added.
"He was always interested in serving his country," Ortiz noted. "He loved the discipline … especially of the Marines."
Mr. Ortiz-Rivera was promoted to staff sergeant in July 2009, according to the Marine public affairs office. He was previously deployed to Iraq and was only two months into his second tour in Afghanistan at the time of his death, Ortiz said.
During the funeral Mass, Mr. Ortiz-Rivera was awarded the Purple Heart. He previously had been awarded the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Afghanistan Campaign Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.
Mr. Ortiz-Rivera’s family is well-known both within the local Catholic community and the community at large through their businesses, which until recently included a Bay Street grocery store owned and operated by Mr. Ortiz-Rivera’s uncle, Father LaurenceTracy said.
The family also had been very active at the former Holy Redeemer/St. Francis Xavier Parish, where Mr. Ortiz-Rivera and his brother had been altar servers as well as youth-group members, Father Tracy said. Ortiz is the president of the Puerto Rican Festival’s board of directors, and his mother is a parishioner at Our Lady of the Americas.
During the last few years, Mr. Ortiz-Rivera became re-energized in his faith and became a better father, Ortiz noted. He would pray with his young children during his calls from Afghanistan and would leave messages of prayer for them, he added.
"He really put his family first," Ortiz said. "He really became that model father."
Ortiz said that he believes the Marines helped his brother gain maturity and that Mr. Ortiz-Rivera would say he had done everything he could to provide for his family.
"Over the last few years, he truly became a passionate person, caring about his family and giving them everything they needed," Ortiz said.
Mr. Ortiz-Rivera is survived by his wife, Veronica; three children, Anthony, Alyssa and Andrew; mother and father, Gloria Rivera and Orlando Ortiz; his brother and sister-in-law, Orlando and Denishia; and his sister, Glory Ortiz.
He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to Our Lady of the Americas Parish, 80 Prince St., Rochester, NY 14605.