Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM)

Mother At Odds With Army Over Body.(Final)

Byline: Colleen Heild Journal Investigative Reporter

* DNA testing produces evidence that remains returned from Vietnam may not be those of N.M. woman's son

Through the viewing window of the coffin, the body of U.S. Army Pfc. Eddie Martinez Jr. didn't look right to a grieving mother.

The arch in the eyebrows was missing. The hair was too dark. The hands inside the white dress gloves seemed too small. The body too big.

Through her grief 34 years ago, Elizabeth Martinez, now 79, had a disturbing thought: This body sent back from Vietnam wasn't that of her son, Eddie.

The U.S. Army told the family that Eddie, who was 20 years old, committed suicide in his barracks at Binh Dinh. What if that, too, was a mistake, his mother wondered.

When the Army returned his belongings, they included a man's wedding band. Eddie wasn't married.

The inconsistencies have haunted Elizabeth Martinez for three decades as she tried to convince the Army that an egregious mistake had been made.

Now, Martinez and her family claim they have conclusive proof: A DNA test performed by a North Carolina laboratory showed that the corpse wasn't related to Elizabeth Martinez.

So far, the Army isn't buying it.

Army officials insist the body was Eddie's, based on dental records and fingerprint analysis confirmed by the FBI. Two autopsies by the New Mexico Office of Medical Investigator confirmed the identity and the finding of suicide.

One pathologist suggested some years back that Elizabeth Martinez could be in denial over the loss of her son.

But the Army's Mortuary Affairs & Casualty Support Division recently asked its own lab to review the test after intervention by U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.

"What most disturbs me about this case is that, in the face of what appears to be contrary evidence, the Army has not budged from its original position," said Bingaman recently.

"If the Army made a mistake, it should own up to it. The Martinez family deserves nothing less."

Nightmare day

"Liars!" Elizabeth Martinez screamed at the two soldiers who stood in her doorway on Feb. 11, 1969.

They relayed a gruesome scene: Eddie Martinez apparently shot himself in the chest and fell back on his bunk. An M-16 rifle was found next to him. Several soldiers in the next room heard an explosion but said they didn't see what happened. …

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