Maybe the flames spared Carlos Arredondo so that, nine years later, Carlos Arredondo could save Jeff Bauman.
In the competing narratives of cowardice and courage emerging from the Boston Marathon bombings, perhaps none has the redemptive power of the man in the cowboy hat.
That hat stayed in place when an adrenalin-fueled Arredondo scaled the barriers separating the bloody sidewalk from Boylston Street where the 52-year-old peace activist had been distributing American flags at the finish line of Boston’s iconic road race. He beat out flames from the blast that had ignited Bauman’s shirt. He tied a makeshift tourniquet around one of the 27-year-old’s two partially severed legs. With emergency workers, he settled Jeff into a wheelchair and sped him to the nearest ambulance. A photographer captured the frantic run.
But, were it not for the quick action of others and the skill of trauma surgeons at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on another tragic day in August 2004, Carlos Arredondo might not have been in Boston on Monday to save Jeff Bauman.
Arredondo was living in Hollywood, Florida with his second wife, Melida, when word came that sniper fire in Iraq had claimed the life of his 20-year-old son, Lance Corporal Alex Arredondo. When the Marines delivered the news, Carlos climbed into the soldiers’ van with a can of gasoline and a propane torch and set himself afire. He suffered burns on more than 25 percent of his body.
Ten days later, medical attendants wheeled him into St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Jamaica Plain in a hospital bed to attend the funeral of his oldest son. Soon after, Arredondo moved back to Boston and become active in the anti-war movement, marching in demonstrations and distributing small flags at public events. That is what he was doing on Monday when the bombs went off.
We are reading a lot this week about what a resilient city Boston is, about how the bombers messed with the wrong town. But that is just the kind of hubris that had us chanting “USA” and invading a country that had no connection to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, a country where Alex Arredondo died on August 25, 2004. It is just the kind of mindless reflex that had witnesses fingering “a Saudi-looking” man for suspicion because he was running from the blast, just as they were.
Cities are not resilient, people are. And, sometimes, they are not.
On December 19, 2011, four months after the dedication of a U.S. Post Office in Jamaica Plain to the memory of Alex Arredondo, his younger brother, Brian, took his own life at his mother’s home in Norwood. He never recovered from the dual shocks the awful day he learned that his soldier brother was dead of a sniper’s bullet and his grieving father was in critical condition with self-inflicted burns. Brian’s suicide is as important to remember as Carlos’ survival.
Carlos Arredondo once told The Boston Globe that his son, Alex, had written him a letter in which he confided that he was “not afraid of dying. I am more afraid of what will happen to all the ones that I love if something happens to me.”
Something happened on Monday. It happened in only the most abstract way to this city. It happened in the blood and bone of those who were killed and injured, those who survive them and those who witnessed the horror. If we want to honor that suffering, we ought to can the talk of Boston’s proud history, its mythical toughness and its legendary resilience. We ought to remember the Arredondo family, in all its complexity, and leave room in our anger and grief for silence and awe.
- Radio Boston: The Man In The Cowboy Hat
- 12/20/11: Father Loses Second Son
- New York Times: In Grisly Image, a Father Sees His Son
Boston Marathon Bombings
Three people were killed and more than 170 injured when two bombs exploded on April 15, 2013 near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.
Cognoscenti Contributors Respond
- Kevin Donovan: Explosions Sounded Like Cannon Fire
- Jim Walsh: They Picked On The Wrong City
- Robin Young: Our History Will Be A Guide For The Future
- David Ropeik: Why Terrorism Works
- Eileen McNamara: The Redemption Of The Man In The Cowboy Hat
- Alex Ashlock: The Scenes I Will Remember
- Sharon Brody: Suddenly Calling Boston Home — With A Vengeance
- E.M. Swift: Spectator Sports Will Never Be The Same
- Anita Diamant: After The Bombs, Pop-Up Landmarks Of Consolation And Solidarity
Related Coverage from WBUR, NPR and AP