Some stories are so heartbreaking that it’s hard to repeat them. I am writing this one on Father’s Day 2013, especially mindful of a father for whom this day brings sorrow and regret. Carlos Arredondo lost his only two children to the Iraq War. The eldest son, Alexander, was a US marine killed in battle in 2004 while serving his second tour of duty. He was just 20 years old—a month younger than my own child, so his family’s experiences hit close to home. Nishelle Bellinger and I explored Carlos Arredondo’s folkloric practices in an essay published in the Journal of American Folklore in 2010: “From Sorrow to Activism: A Father’s Memorial to His Son Alexander Arredondo, Killed in the U.S. Occupation of Iraq” 123(488):179–217. We discussed the complex and artistic ways in which Carlos responded to the jarring news of Alex’s death by creating spontaneous memorials at peace rallies and veterans’ events, often using the back of his truck to display a coffin decorated with enlarged photos of Alex, his military boots, and other items to memorialize his son. Alex’s death radically changed Carlos, an immigrant from Costa Rica who struggled to build a better life for his kids. After Alex was killed, Carlos and his wife, Mélida Arredondo, began speaking out against the Iraq War, using the memorials to help communicate their grief. The memory-laden displays encouraged onlookers to consider the real and tragic human loss resulting from US military policy and to take a stand against the death and destruction that war inevitably brings.
Talking with Carlos and Mélida and going to visit Alex’s gravesite, the home where he grew up, and the street and post office now displaying memorial signs to honor him were profound experiences for me. Alex’s death has turned the Arredondos’ world upside down in every way, as it has for Victoria Foley, his mother (Victoria and Carlos divorced when the boys were young). Hearing their stories and seeing what Alex’s death has done to them is moving and deeply disturbing. In our conversations they always mentioned Brian, Alex’s younger brother. They worried about the tremendous toll Alex’s death was taking on him, knowing that he was traumatized, angry, and feeling lost. They reached out and tried to help him, but in their grief and [End Page 82]
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despair, Brian slipped through their fingers. When I got word in December 2011 that Brian had committed suicide, I could hardly breathe. What follows is the second part of this troubling story.
Brian never really recovered from Alex’s death in the Iraq War. When they were kids, Brian adored his older brother and tagged along with him whenever he could. They were often seen playing together in parks and schoolyards in communities surrounding Boston, Massachusetts, and Bangor, Maine, where they grew up. As teens, the two boys were perfect targets for military recruiters: first-generation Americans (on their father’s side), working-class youth (they attended a technical high school where much of the curriculum focuses on vocational education), and living with their mother after their parents divorced when the boys were young. Promises of career training, male camaraderie and “becoming a man,” appeals to patriotism, a $10,000 signing bonus and funding for college enticed Alex Arredondo to join the marines, just a month before September 11, 2011. Brian was distraught and seemed...