My heart aches for this family. If you can, send something, no matter how small.....
Family's 'year of sadness'
January 2, 2006
BY CHERYL L. REED Staff Reporter
An Elmhurst family is homeless after a candle left burning on a shrine to their son -- a soldier killed six weeks ago in Iraq -- set their house on fire.
A picture of Christopher Alcozer marching in a Fourth of July parade and other memorabilia caught fire on the homemade shrine Tuesday night, and flames spread quickly. Many members of the family -- including kids and grandkids -- were upstairs watching a movie at the time. Smoke detectors alerted them and they were able to escape safely.
The absence of injuries was a bright spot in an otherwise horrible stretch for the family, beginning in 2004 when the family patriarch, Jesse Alcozer, lost his job.
"We're still dealing with it all. It's been very hard. It's been a year of sadness. One thing right after another," said his 41-year-old wife, Judy Alcozer, Christopher's stepmom.
DONATIONS CAN BE MADE TO:
Jesse Alcozer Family Fund
Community Bank of Elmhurst
330 W. Butterfield Rd.
Protesters at funeral
Jesse Alcozer, 57, a disabled Marine who was wounded seven times while serving in Vietnam, lost his machine-operating job when the plant where he worked closed. Unable to get work and with so much time on his hands, he began to think more about Vietnam and what had happened there. He was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and rated 100 percent disabled and unfit to work by Veterans Affairs doctors. But in October, the VA decided to cut Jesse Alcozer's benefits 20 percent and threatened to further reduce them by 80 percent, he said.
Then on Nov. 19 Christopher Alcozer, a 2003 graduate of Villa Park's Willowbrook High School, was killed after his unit was attacked with small arms fire and hand grenades in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Ten days later, Jesse Alcozer, his wife and their extended family buried Christopher, a 21-year-old Army infantryman, while a half-dozen protesters stood across the street carrying signs that read: "Thank God for Dead Soldiers."
"It was bad enough that I got harassed after I got out of Vietnam," Jesse Alcozer said. "But after 37 years of trying to get rid of this wound, they are doing this to my son."
Proud of his military service, Jesse Alcozer said he often marched in local parades, bringing along his four older sons when they were old enough to walk. Besides Christopher, three other sons joined the military. Two are currently serving in the Army.
"It was hard to deal with life," Jesse Alcozer said about returning from Vietnam. "And when I found myself lost, I would try to find a way to help out the American Legion and would march in the parades."
'We saw it as a sign'
When one by one his sons decided to enter the military, Jesse Alcozer says he didn't try to stop them. But when the VA cut his disability and the protesters marred his son's funeral, he began to wonder whether it was worth their sacrifice.
On Tuesday night, as the family scrambled out of their two-story rented home, the American flag flying outside their house remained unscorched. As Jesse Alcozer watched the Elmhurst firefighters battling the blaze, he lamented that he was unable to save the American flag indoors that had draped his son's coffin.
An Elmhurst firefighter fought off the smoke and flames and went upstairs to retrieve the flag in its case along with Christopher Alcozer's medals. The flag case was covered in soot, but the flag inside was not damaged. Also untouched was a Gold Star banner hanging in the front window. Flames burned the window trim and the wall, but snaked around Christopher's star.
"We saw it as a sign from Christopher," Judy Alcozer said.
Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn, who spoke at Christopher Alcozer's funeral in November, was so horrified by the protesters, who have appeared at about six other military funerals in the state, that he is proposing a new law. The Let Them Rest In Peace Act would prohibit any protesting within 300 feet of any military or civilian funeral and would ban protests during funeral services, and 30 minutes before and after.
Quinn's office has also helped set up a trust for the Alcozer family in care of the Community Bank of Elmhurst.