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12-12-06, 02:29 PM #1
Father who burned self after son's death becomes citizen
Father who burned self after son's death becomes citizen
By Associated Press | December 12, 2006
LOWELL, Mass. --A man who lit himself on fire two years ago after hearing of his son's death in Iraq got a new start today.
Carlos Arredondo was sworn in as a US citizen in Lowell today, along with nearly a thousand other people from 106 countries.
In August 2004, Arredondo's 20-year-old son, Alexander , who grew up in Boston, died during his second tour in Iraq.
Arredondo was so distraught after the Marines came to his Florida home to tell him, that he climbed in their van and splashed it with gasoline.
A propane torch he'd brought inside was lit , Arredondo says accidentally , and he was blown outside.
He recovered from his burns and apologized. He was not prosecuted.
The Costa Rica native said becoming a citizen is a way to honor his two sons. To that end, he also changed his name today to Alexander Brian Arredondo.
12-12-06, 02:29 PM #2
A year after his fiery outburst, a father's scars slowly recede
By Peter Schworm, Globe Staff | August 14, 2005
With his scarred hands, Carlos Arredondo patted his son's gravestone gently, the way he used to tousle Alex's hair when he was young.
It has only been a decade or so since Alex would climb trees in the Arnold Arboretum, would climb on his father's shoulders for the walk home.
But on this day, in Walpole, the elder Arredondo stared silently at a picture of his son in his Marine uniform. He absently wrung his hands, still injured from the glass that shattered when he smashed a Marine van's window with a sledgehammer. He bent over to rub his calf, burned blood-red by the gasoline fire he ignited in the van with a blowtorch.
Above the gravestone, red and blue birthday balloons swayed in the breeze. This day would have been the 21st birthday for Alex Arredondo, a Marine lance corporal killed in Iraq a year ago on Aug. 25.
''My handsome hero," Arredondo whispered, reading the headstone inscription aloud. ''Happy Birthday."
Nearly a year has passed since a grief-torn Arredondo, on his 44th birthday, set fire to the van of three Marines sent to his Hollywood, Fla., home to inform him of his son's death. Arredondo sustained severe burns over a quarter of his body. The nationwide coverage of the event crystallized the suffering of the families of slain soldiers and increasing ambivalence over the war.
Arredondo, a handyman, moved from Florida to Roslindale this spring to be near his son's grave, which he visits several mornings a week. The grief that overwhelmed him a year ago has receded, painstakingly, through therapy, unwavering support from friends and family, and time.
His seared nerve endings no longer ache; his scalded throat no longer screams. He thinks more of training wheels and piggybacks than snipers and caskets. He cries less, and sleeps more. He found solace in the hundreds of letters of prayers and condolences, and in a meeting in December with the three Marines who had notified him of Alex's death. At that private meeting, he saluted and embraced the three.
Yet as the anniversary of his son's death nears, Arredondo still battles depression, anxiety, and deep feelings of guilt and anger. For the burns, he still must lather himself daily from head to toe with antibiotic lotions, and his dead skin still scales off. He's put most of the pictures and letters and medals away, but he still listens to his son's phone messages on the answering machine. Dates and numbers escape him, and he keeps misplacing his phone and wallet.
He struggles to honor his son's sacrifice and commemorate that life while rebuilding his own, to remember his son's warm smile without reliving the pain of his death.
'I still feel very upset and sad. Denial, guilt, anger, all of those. Sometimes I just need to be alone," he said. ''But I'm doing better, day by day. I am learning to look for those beautiful memories I have of him."
Fonder thoughts come easier at his son's grave -- playing cowboys and Indians in the Arboretum, dribbling a soccer ball at Daisy Field on the Jamaicaway, catching fish in Jamaica Pond.
The quiet here helps him block out dark thoughts and recall happier times. He cuts the grass and clears the snow. He talks to his son in the present tense, asking his forgiveness for the grief, for which he knows Alex would disapprove.
''He only wants me to be happy, I know that," he said. ''And I know he's in a better place. But I am very selfish. I want him here with me."
He pulls out a letter Alex wrote him in January 2003 on his way to Kuwait, that said, ''I am not afraid of dying. I am more afraid of what will happen to all the ones that I love if something happens to me."
What exactly happened the day Arredondo lashed out at the Marine van still baffles him. On that day, he was building a picket fence for the front yard and awaiting a birthday phone call from Alex. When he saw the Marines drive up, he thought they were recruiters visiting the teenage boys who lived next door. When they broke the news, shock and grief overtook him.
''I felt my heart rushing to my feet, very fast," he recalled last Sunday at his Roslindale home. ''It hit me so hard. I couldn't believe it. 'Is this really happening? Is this a dream?' "
Weeping, he clasped a picture of Alex to his chest, crying, ''They killed my Chi-Chi!" -- Alex's childhood nickname.
Then he frantically called his son, Brian, who was living with his mother in Maine, and his wife, Melida Arredondo.
''I've never heard that tone in his voice," Melida said. ''It was like he was screaming, just not loudly."
Increasingly agitated and confused, Arredondo asked the Marines to leave, but they refused, saying they had to wait for his wife to return home.
That's when his rage bubbled over and he attacked the van, he said. Although he spilled gasoline in the front of the van, he said the fire started accidentally, and he never meant to injure himself or others.
''I just lost my mind," he said. ''I was crazy with grief. But I didn't mean to hurt anybody. I just wanted them to leave. The torch coming on, that was an accident."
Though his outburst was not intended as a political statement, Arredondo remains deeply conflicted over the war.
A Costa Rican immigrant, he flies American and Marine flags at his home and considers himself a patriot. Yet he draws a sharp line between his support for the troops and his country and his opposition to the war in Iraq.
''I support Alex and his friends and his battalion and the Marines. I support the Army and the Air Force and the Navy," he said. ''I don't support the decision to go to war. Alex never should have died there."
Yet he said he ''has to believe" that his son, who enlisted in the Marines in 2001, was fighting for a noble cause.
''His reasons were beautiful," Carlos said. ''He believed in helping the Iraqi people. He wanted them to be free."
Arredondo follows the war coverage closely, and reports of more casualties awaken old nightmares. He flew the Marine and American flags outside his home at half-staff to honor the 21 Marines killed in Iraq at the start of the month.
''I have good days and bad," he said. ''Two steps forward, one step back."
On a warm Sunday evening in Roslindale, Arredondo looks outside at a group of young boys. He smiles weakly. They remind him of a young Alex, he said.
''It's still all the way around me," he said. ''It will take time."
A bit later, after hearing Melida tell one of Alex's favorite jokes, he smiled broadly and chuckled.
''Thank you for that," he told his wife. ''That's good to hear."
Peter Schworm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. A memorial Mass for Alex Arredondo will be celebrated at 9:15 a.m. Aug. 21 at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Roslindale.
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