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Soldier remembers comrade who never came back

  • Story Highlights
  • Shaun Gopaul, Alex Jimenez served together in military starting in 2005
  • Gopaul: "He saved our lives" by showing us what to do
  • Bodies of Jimenez, another soldier found in Iraq after a year
  • Jimenez learned Arabic and taught others so they could talk to locals
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By Mallory Simon
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(CNN) -- Spec. Shaun Gopaul woke up at 4 a.m. on May 12, 2007, and waited at a battle position south of Baghdad for members of his company to pick him up.

Gopaul said Jimenez, right, often taught other soldiers Arabic to help them communicate with locals.

Sgt. Alex Jimenez, left, and Spc. Shaun Gopaul had served in the military together since 2005.

One of those he expected to see was the larger-than-life figure of Sgt. Alex Jimenez, who cared so much about his fellow soldiers that he made sure every one was comfortable and who cared so much about the Iraqis he was fighting for that he learned Arabic on his own so he could talk with them.

"He was a good guy, you know. He had a big heart," Gopaul said.

But Jimenez and the other soldiers never came.

While he was waiting, Gopaul heard on the radio that Sgt. Alex Jimenez -- the first person he met in the company and also his best friend -- and other members of his company had been ambushed and captured by insurgents in a section of Iraq known as the Triangle of Death.

Gopaul said Friday that during the time Jimenez and other members of the company were missing, he tried to keep upbeat and hoped that his best friend would come home safely.

But on Friday the military confirmed they found the bodies of Jimenez and 19-year-old Pvt. Byron W. Fouty and returned them to the United States.

"In a way, I'm glad that he's home," Gopaul said. "It's just not in the way that we wanted."

The body of a third soldier who was captured -- Pfc. Joseph J. Anzack Jr., 20, of Torrance, California -- was pulled from the Euphrates River in Babil province 11 days after the attack.

After they began serving together in 2005, Gopaul said he and Jimenez were inseparable. When Gopaul arrived, Jimenez offered to let him bunk with him because many of the servicemen were younger than he. It was Gopaul's first tour in Iraq and Jimenez, who was on his second tour, took it upon himself to help new soldiers from Company D, 4th Battalion, 31st Regiment -- nicknamed the polar bears -- learn the ropes.

"He grabbed all the new guys and put us where we needed to be and showed us how to do our jobs," Gopaul said. "He saved our lives by showing us the right way to do things and where to be so we wouldn't be hurt."

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Jimenez, 25, even took it upon himself to start learning Arabic, Gopaul said. He studied the language until he eventually became fluent. Then, he taught the entire platoon and company so they would have an easier time talking to locals.

"It was awesome, because if we didn't have an interpreter we had him to help out," Gopaul said.

During their free time the two soldiers wrote and sang music -- often reggaeton -- sometimes about being in the Army. Above all, Gopaul said, Jimenez was known for his sense of humor and always being there for anyone who needed it.

"I've been getting a lot of calls from a lot of people across different battalions who knew him and knew the size of his heart, Gopaul said.

The last time he spoke to Jimenez, Gopaul was returning from time off and Jimenez called to let him know what was going on in Iraq and see how his good friend was doing.

"I told him 'I'll see you in a couple days,' " Gopaul said. "But that was it. I never saw him again."

Gopaul said he has taken a 14-day leave from service and will go to visit members of the Jimenez family who live in New York and Boston, Massachusetts.

Black ribbons of mourning replaced the yellow ribbons around the Jimenez home Thursday afternoon. A POW/MIA flag that had been hanging from the home for more than a year was also replaced by a U.S. flag.

"This has all been pretty hard," Gopaul said. "But one thing is for sure -- we'll never forget him."

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