Mourning US dad a hero to Boston wounded

2013-04-17 08:46
Carlos Arredondo helps get Jeff Bauman jnr to medical care after the Boston Marathon explosions. Both Bauman's legs have since been amputated. (File, AP)

Carlos Arredondo helps get Jeff Bauman jnr to medical care after the Boston Marathon explosions. Both Bauman's legs have since been amputated. (File, AP)

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Boston - He literally seared with pain upon losing his son in the Iraq war, setting himself ablaze. His life is now one long act of mourning and homage, and watching the Boston Marathon was another chapter.

When two thunderous explosions tore through the crowd near the finish line on Monday, rather than flee for safety amid the smoky chaos, Carlos Arredondo ran right into it, jumping over a fence to tend the wounded. At least three people were killed and around 170 were hurt, some losing legs.

The worst attacks in the United States since 11 September 2001, certainly produced their share of heroes as bystanders rushed into the fray, ripping up any cloth they could find, say, to make tourniquets and stanch blood gushing from the stumps of severed legs, as Arredondo did, amid fears of more blasts.

But for Arredondo - this time wearing a white cowboy hat, bearded and with longish black hair as he pushed a wheelchair with a terribly wounded man in a photo used on newspaper front pages - it was a second taste of celebrity borne of sudden, brutal tragedy.

He downplayed his acts as something any Red Cross volunteer like him would do in a moment of acute, mind-numbing crisis.

"My first reaction was to just go, you know, and do my duty," said Arredondo, who lives in the Boston area with his wife Melida.


Arredondo was watching the marathon from the stands to see National Guardsmen running in honour of fallen soldiers, such as his son Alex, killed in Najaf, Iraq, in 2004, at the age of 20. Arredondo got the news from crisply uniformed US Marines on his own birthday, number 44.

A native of Costa Rica who came to the United States in 1980, Arredondo said that while first helping the man later removed in a wheelchair, as another person tied tourniquets to a left leg that below the knee was only bone, he tried to block the man's view of his appendage.

And he talked to him, to soothe him and try to keep him conscious.

"I kept saying, 'stay with me, stay with me'," Arredondo said, according to the Portland Press Herald newspaper. At that point, a small American flag that Arredondo had brought to the race was bloodied and stuffed in his pocket.

Arredondo, who as well as being a Red Cross volunteer, back home in Central America was a fireman and used to rescue injured bullfighters, seemed eager to sound humble, to avoid taking credit and redirect it to others.

"So many people [were] doing the same thing - police officers, National Guards, people from the stands, veterans. You know, everybody just got together," he told the newspaper.

Worst news

Arredondo's life changed instantly and forever when he learned of his son's death in a hail of gunfire in a hotel in Najaf, almost nine years ago.

At the time, he was living in Florida when the military men in blue bearing the worst of news found him. Seven years after that, gutwrenching pain and grief would engulf him yet again as another son, Brian, battling depression since the death of Alex, committed suicide, at the age of 24.

On that first day from hell in a Florida town called Hollywood, Arredondo went berserk. He smashed the windshield of the Marines' van with a sledgehammer, climbed in with a propane torch and a gasoline can, doused it and himself in fuel and lit the torch. A blast ensued, but the Marines pulled him to safety, although with second- and third-degree burns over 20% of his body.

"I went to my son's funeral on a stretcher," he told The New York Times in 2007.

After healing physically at least, Arredondo made it his mission in life to protest the Iraq war, travelling around the United States in a green pickup truck turned roving monument to his son.

In the truck bed was a flag-draped coffin holding some of his boy's things: A football, a pair of shoes, a stuffed Winnie the Pooh. On its sides were poster-sized photos of Alex.

The Times described how in the winter of 2007 Arredondo took his sad road show to Times Square in New York City and stood by it in tribute on a cold morning.

"This is my whole world," he was quoted as saying, holding his arms wide open. "This is my burden."

Read more on:    us  |  boston explosions

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