BANGOR – Rummaging through a box her son had sent her before he shipped out for his second tour of duty in Iraq last spring, Victoria Foley found a watch with its date stopped on the 24th of the month.
Months after he had sent the package, but on the 24th of this month, time ran out for Foley’s son, 20-year-old U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, who was killed near Najaf, a continued hot spot in Iraq.
Foley, who has lived in Bangor since last fall, learned of her son’s death Wednesday afternoon, when two Marines and two Navy service men pulled into her yard to bring her the bad news. Foley was not home at the time, but when she returned later, her son, Brian, 17, kept saying “sorry, mom; sorry, mom.”
A little later, the military officials returned.
“I ran out and I wanted to know whether he was wounded or whether he was killed,” Foley said Thursday.
Inside her home, the military officials told her what she didn’t want to hear.
“I asked them if they had the right person,” Foley said. “I asked them if it could be a mistake.”
The military has not publicly disclosed what happened to Alex. Foley said they told her that he had been shot and rushed to a hospital but died on the way.
The family’s pain became more difficult when news that Arredondo’s father, who lives in Florida, became so despondent Wednesday at the news of his son’s death that he lit a government van on fire when he was inside it. Brian said he spoke to his father, Carlos Arredondo, Wednesday night. Although he was in serious condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami, he was doing well. The father is being treated for burns on as much as 50 percent of his body.
Alex Arredondo joined the Marines out of a sense of duty, and it seemed a good match, said Brian, who is the same age his brother was when he entered the military. Brian wore a set of his brother’s dog tags and the favorite baseball cap Alex liked to wear. The cap had covered the stopped watch that had been in the box sent home to his mother.
Thursday afternoon, when she wasn’t answering phone calls from family, friends, teachers or people who had grown up with Alex, Foley flipped through pictures of her son. She showed snapshots of a bare-bottomed infant Alex and other shots that show him growing up and filling out his 5-foot-11-inch frame. She lingered on her favorite picture, a close shot of Alex taken just days after he was born when she had taken her son to see his father play soccer during simpler and happier times.
Alex’s optimism came from his mother, she thinks. Growing up in Massachusetts, he planned for the future and hoped to go to college, get married and raise a family, she said.
When others complained about the difficulty of training, Alex would just smile and keep working hard and trying to make a difference, Brian said. When children threw rocks at American military in Iraq, Alex would try to help out and change their attitudes.
“That’s one thing I will say I gave to him: optimism, which is a good thing to have in this life,” said Foley, who moved to Bangor to be nearer family members who live in the city.
She recalled the last time she had spoken to Alex, on Tuesday, the day he died. He sounded upbeat, but then again, he always did, even when things were tough, his family members said. They could detect no hint of trouble in his voice, and his mother said he sounded more upbeat than he had in the past.
But he was also prepared.
Foley said Alex knew that the fighting that had begun on his birthday on Aug. 5 was not going to let up and might even escalate.
He told Brian to watch the news as the Marines had embedded journalists among them.
“He was ready,” his mother said. “He was ready to fight that night. He knew it was going to get rough.”