April 17, 2013

Bill Nemitz: Two friends honoring courage display theirs

By Bill Nemitz bnemitz@pressherald.com
Columnist

BOSTON — People do different things when life explodes right before their eyes. Some freeze. Some scream. Some look for a place to hide. Still others run for their lives.

click image to enlarge

An emergency responder and volunteers, including Carlos Arredondo in the cowboy hat, push Jeff Bauman Jr. in a wheelchair after he was wounded in an explosion near the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Monday.

The Associated Press

FOR MORE COVERAGE, visit our special section on the Boston bombings.

John Mixon and Carlos Arredondo did none of those things Monday. As one bomb, and then another, turned the finish line of the Boston Marathon into a nightmare rivaling any war zone, these two friends ran directly into the carnage.

“There was blood everywhere ... and limbs ... and bodies,” recalled Mixon, a Wells resident who founded the annual Maine Run for the Fallen to honor soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. “It was just horrible.”

Arredondo, himself the father of a fallen Marine with Maine ties, nodded helplessly – his eyes vacant, his mind stuck on replay, his sweatshirt and hands still covered with the dried blood of a man he’d never met.

“I had two ladies next to me, right next to each other, totally passed out,” Arredondo said haltingly in his thick Spanish accent. “And then the next thing I know, I’m standing in a big puddle of blood ... and this young lady is asking me for help ... and this man is trying to stand up ... and he had no legs ... and that’s when pretty much I went to help him.”

You’ve probably seen Arredondo in a photo or a video by now, the guy in the cowboy hat tending to the wounded mere seconds after the world’s oldest annual marathon became forever linked to a still-unexplained act of terrorism.

And there, off to the side, is Mixon, in his red baseball cap and black Run for the Fallen sweatshirt, frantically working alongside a pair of National Guardsmen to clear away the wooden and steel barricades separating scores of victims from the earliest of the first responders.

“I can’t believe it. In America? In Boston? It’s unbelievable this can happen,” said Arredondo.

As he spoke, he still clutched a small, bloodstained U.S. flag that he’d planned to bestow on one of the many soldiers who ran the 26.2-mile course in full combat camouflage with 40-pound rucksacks on their backs.

Arredondo, a native of Costa Rica who’s now an American citizen, lives in nearby Roslindale, Mass.

To this day, his world revolves around his late son, Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, who was 20 when he died from enemy gunfire in Najaf, Iraq, in 2004.

It was, for the senior Arredondo, a moment that forever changed his life: The day the Marines came to notify him of his son’s death – he lived in Florida at the time, while Alex’s mother lived in Bangor – Arredondo broke out the windows of the Marines’ van, splashed gasoline on himself and the inside of the vehicle, then lit a fire with a propane torch.

Burned over a quarter of his body, Arredondo was not charged in the incident – police and military officials said they made the decision “out of compassion” for his loss.

After his recovery, he became a peace activist along with his wife, Melida, installing a mock casket in the back of his pickup truck as a traveling memorial to Alex. (During a 2007 anti-war demonstration in Washington, D.C., a right-wing group attacked Arredondo and beat him to the ground before a group of Iraq veterans came to his rescue.)

In December of 2011, tragedy struck again: Arredondo’s other son, 24-year-old Brian Luis, committed suicide.

“I’m here for both of my sons,” Arredondo said Monday, pointing to the two buttons, each depicting a lost son, attached to his bloody sweatshirt.

Mixon, a Vietnam veteran who became close with Arredondo after founding the Maine Run for the Fallen in 2008, could only shake his head and marvel at his friend’s courage and perseverance.

(Continued on page 2)

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