As men, we're taught not to cry. But the story of Carlos Arredondo made me cry. Carlos, a Costa Rican immigrant, became a naturalized American citizen not long after hearing of his son's death in Iraq. But after his heroic actions in the chaos of the deadly explosions at the Boston Marathon, Arredondo isn't merely an American hero, but the world's hero.
I don't know if I can imagine the pain of a man so driven by grief of his son's death in Iraq that he was driven to self-immolation. Or the anger felt by a father who watched his government ban war photos, including soldiers' coffins coming home, to win shallow political fights. Or the courage it takes to hear an explosion and see blood and run toward it to help others rather than run away to preserve your own life. But Carlos Arredondo is a shining example of what every human being of every nationality should aspire to be.
Carlos, a trained Red Cross volunteer, ran toward the injured runners when he saw the explosion and helped runners who had their legs blown off in the blast, applying the makeshift tourniquets out of the runners' clothes. One extremely graphic photo that looks like a war wound shows a runner in a wheelchair with half of his leg missing. A man is running in front, with a terrified look on his face as he eyes the runner's injury. Carlos Arredondo is the man in the cowboy hat steering the man's wheelchair with a determined look in his face, devoid of fear despite the gruesome, chaotic situation.
Carlos's 20 year-old son, Alexander S. Arredondo, was a Lance Corporal in the Marines. He died in 2004 during a battle in Najaf. Alexander was already serving his second tour in the war where it would be revealed the following year that Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, the entire reason for the war, didn't actually exist. Carlos was celebrating his 44th birthday in Florida when the Marines approached his doorstep and informed him of his son's death in his own front yard. Carlos became so filled with despair that he doused himself in gasoline and lit himself on fire with a propane torch in an attempt to destroy the Marines' van. Even though roughly 1/4th of his body was covered with multiple second- and third-degree burns, he attended his son's funeral from his a stretcher with two paramedics at his side.
In The New York Times profile of his recovery, Carlos was seen clutching the flag covering his son's coffin during the funeral and saying, "This is my whole world... This is my burden." Carlos became a peace activist after Alexander's death, determined to make sure soldiers' deaths were never forgotten. Arredondo rallied against President Bush's policy of banning photographs of flag-covered coffins containing dead soldiers. He also became an ally of the anti-gun violence movement, organizing a peace vigil in Newtown after the Sandy Hook shooting.
After his big brother's death in 2004, Carlos Arredondo's youngest son, Brian, sank into a deep depression and became addicted to drugs. Even though the Arredondo family attended grief counseling sessions, Brian Arredondo suffered still and attempted suicide in 2006. He ended up taking his own life just six days before Christmas in 2011 as the last troops were leaving Iraq. His bereaved dad was quoted saying, "We are broken hearts."
In Joan Livingston's interview with Carlos Arredondo on her YouTube channel posted not long after the explosions, Carlos is seen clutching a blood-soaked American flag. This iconic photo from a CNN slideshow shows Arredondo clutching that same bloody flag. Despite his country's unnecessary war of aggression killing his eldest son directly and his youngest son indirectly, his government's attempts to censor coverage of his son's coffin coming home, Carlos is still a proud citizen clutching his nation's flag.
Even in the midst of nightmarishly violent chaos, the war-weary father rushed into blood and carnage to help his fellow human beings in danger.
The heroic Boston Marathon runners, Boston first responders, blood donors, and other volunteers on the scene of the destruction deserve our honor and respect. But Carlos Arredondo especially stands out of what it means to come through for others when they're most in need.