It was near the end of the day, most of the booths and conference rooms were empty as I made my way back into the heart of the convention to look for a friend. Only a few people remained in the cluttered hallway: some were talking amongst themselves; others were packing up books, fliers, and packets. One man was alone in the middle of the hallway and I immediately saw that I would most likely have to walk around him. He was a tall man, taller than me at least, with curly black hair and an anguished smile on his face. A pair of desert boots dangled from his right hand. That's odd, I thought. Many of us wore our desert boonie cap or DCU cut off shorts, but this was the first man I had seen carrying around his boots.
Our eyes met and I knew that I wouldn't be able to ignore him. I was in a hurry, but I wasn't going to ignore the man. I took a couple more steps in his direction before he grabbed me and pulled me close in his arms. He was hugging me like he never wanted to let go; I could feel the boots bouncing on my back as he pat my back and repeated the words "Thank you" it seemed like a hundred times. The whole thing was overwhelming. The musk of his cologne was almost as strong as his embrace; his strong embrace contrasted with the weakness in his breathless, sad, Latino voice. He pulled away and told me how happy he was that I was alive. I can't even tell you how I replied; I don't know. I just remember looking at those boots, and then it hit me . . .
. . . the boots weren't his.
Alexander Arredondo, 25, was killed by enemy fire three years ago today, August 25, 2004. The man that still had one hand on my shoulder was Carlos Arredondo, Alexander's still-grieving father. Suddenly, it all seemed so obvious to me; I mean, a tribute to Alexander adorned Carlos' shirt, but in my haste, I had overlooked it when I first saw the man with the curly hair and desert boots.
The next time I saw Carlos, he was giving a speech to the hundreds of people gathered at the Gateway Arch. He was still carrying his son's boots, the same boots that I felt on my back, the same boots that his son wore the day he died. A great sadness came over me as I thought about how poor Carlos must have reacted when he learned of his son's death. I made a mental note to Google Mr. Arredondo when I returned to Oklahoma; perhaps he had a website. Maybe I could find his email and shoot him an encouraging word or two about the power of our first meeting.
When I got home, I did Google Carlos Arredondo. I didn't find an email address or a website, but what I did find was amazing. I don't know what it is like to have children, and I of course don't know what it's like to lose a child. After reading this article I think I may have a small idea. I hope that you find some peace in this world, Mr. Arredondo; I hope you know how much you touched the people at the Veterans for Peace Convention, and I hope I never feel the pain that you did on that fateful day three years ago.