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Puerto Rican Festival flag honors local Marine killed in action

August 13, 2019 08:10 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — The American flag flying over this weekend’s festival was once flown over the battleground in Afghanistan by a local Marine.

Orlando Ortiz and his siblings were born in Puerto Rico but raised in Rochester. While attending RIT, he started volunteering with the Puerto Rican Festival. Now, he’s the president for the board of directors.

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In 2009, he helped organize a 5K for the festival. It was a race his brother Staff Sgt. Javier Ortiz, stationed in North Carolina, came up to Rochester for with his family.

“We started the race together and within seconds he was off,” laughed Orlando. He added, “As I turned the last quarter mile, he was running the other way, back up so we could finish together.”

During that weekend’s festival, Orlando remembers his brother commenting on how there was no American flag. During 2010’s festival, he brought it back up and had a solution.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you do this…I’ll be deployed in Afghanistan in a few weeks. You’ll have time to ship it to me, and when I get back you can say you’re flying a flag from Afghanistan,'” recalled Orlando.

So he did just that. Knowing packages take a few weeks to arrive to a battleground, Orlando never knew if the flag arrived. 
Showing the receipt for the care package, he said, “I sent this on October 9, 2010. He died November 16.”

Twenty-six-year-old Staff Sgt. Javier Ortiz, a father of three, was killed by a roadside bomb.

The flag was forgotten until a few months later during a celebration of life with his platoon.

“Some of his platoon members I met down in North Carolina, and they said, ‘Hey, we have…we have a gift for you from your brother.' I said, ‘what are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, we have a flag that he flew, a U.S. flag he said he was flying for you, that he said you wanted at the Puerto Rican Festival,’” recalled Orlando.

He could barely believe it. In fact, he hardly did. Until the Marine showed him a picture of his brother raising the flag in Afghanistan.

“It was shocking to me because, again, I didn’t know he received it. To get that flag from his guys it was like his last mission to get that back to me, and to have that proof that he was the one who put it up,”expressed Orlando.

Since his death and the return of that flag, it flies as part of the Puerto Rican Festival’s opening ceremony on Friday. 

In addition, the 5K is now named after Staff Sgt. Ortiz. A race he once ran in with his brother 10 years ago is now a race his kids continue to run in now in his memory.

Credits

Stephanie Robusto

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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