Family loses son in Iraq, then house to fire
Vietnam War veteran Jesse Alcozer isn’t used to asking for help. But a series of traumas — the death of his son in Iraq, protests by a hate group at the funeral and a fire that left the Alcozer family homeless — proved too much to endure. “We just need a little bit of help,” said Alcozer, his voice breaking during a news conference Monday afternoon. We've tried to be a good family and good people," said Alcozer Jr., 33, Christopher's half-brother, as tears built and slowly fell. "Hopefully there's karma, and it all comes back to you."
The Alcozers’ rental house went up in flames Dec. 27 when a candle burning in a shrine for U.S. Army Pfc. Christopher Alcozer set his picture on fire. The only spot of good news was that firefighters rescued medals belonging to Christopher and the flag that had draped his coffin. “It’s a part of my son. It means a lot,” Alcozer said.
The family is temporarily staying at a hotel, but money is tight. Jesse Alcozer is a disabled Vietnam Marine veteran who was shot 7 times in Vietnam. He was listed as Missing in Action until he was able to make his way back to his unit after they thought he was dead. He lost his job some months ago when his company moved overseas, and his veterans benefits were cut 20 percent just before Christopher’s death Nov. 19. Firefighters estimated the damage to the 1880s frame house on North Michigan Avenue in eastern Elmhurst at $100,000.
Members of the Alcozer family, including two young grandchildren, were relaxing and watching "Toy Story" together around 9 p.m. Dec. 27 when the fire struck. “The next thing we knew, the fire alarm went off,” said Judy Alcozer, Jesse’s wife. She tried to extinguish the flames, but the fire spread too rapidly. “I prayed that we all got out alive,” Jesse Alcozer said.
While watching the destruction, the couple told emergency workers about the flag and medals. Firefighters Eric Burmeister and Kevin Cwirla, who is a retired National Guard staff sergeant, hurried to salvage them. 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.
“His son gave the ultimate sacrifice, and we hoped we could alleviate the pain,” Cwirla said.
“The good Lord has a way of doing things,” Alcozer said. The family is steeped in military history. Jesse’s father and grandfather served, and he has two sons enlisted.
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.
Christopher grew up hoping to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
“My son always believed in America,” Jesse said.
He died at age 21 during a skirmish in the town of Mosul, Iraq, while his unit was looking for suspected terrorists holed up in a house, Jesse said. Christopher was fatally shot while covering other soldiers as they removed the wounded. “He couldn’t walk away. He stood his ground. He wanted to make sure his Army friends got out alive,” Alcozer said. “At the last minute he was killed.” He had proposed to his girlfriend just weeks ago on his leave from Iraq.
Adding to the family’s grief were protesters who demonstrated outside the funeral with signs saying, “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.” The group has targeted military burials, contending that the deaths of soldiers are divine retribution for society’s toleration of homosexuals. The experience was unbelievably hurtful, Alcozer said. “Can’t people just stay away?” he said. “For someone to come and protest … it’s just too painful.”
Whenever you're having one of "those days" where you think life sucks, think about this family. I saw this story on the news and it just broke my heart. How much can a family endure??? My thoughts and prayers go out to them and I am truly grateful for their family's dedication to our country and our military.
With that being said, I am LIVID at the thought of people protesting funerals. What kind of sick, twisted, demented loons do something like that????? "THANK GOD FOR DEAD SOLDIERS".......I'm sorry but those protesters deserve to go to hell. Sure they are exercising their freedom of speech, (which the military fought to give us), saying its diving retribution for society's toleration of homosexuals???? Who are these people? Are they religious fanatics? So its justice for America not shunning gays? I hope they are not registered Republicans because they will give us a bad name!! I know they are many out there who do not agree with the morality of homosexuals, and thats their right, but I can't imagine them cheering at slain soldier's funerals. Its horrifying and disgraceful. I'm suprised that group wasn't back to throw gasoline on the home as it was burning.
God bless this family and may their son rest in peace.