HIALEAH, Fla. – A man has apologized for setting fire to a Marine van and burning himself by mistake when a military team arrived at his home to tell him his son had been killed in Iraq.
“Thank God they opened their hearts to see me,” Carlos Arredondo said after the private meeting Saturday at a Marine base in suburban Miami.
Arredondo was celebrating his 44th birthday and had his phone in his pocket expecting his son, Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo, 20, to call with best wishes.
But the elder man went berserk Aug. 25 when the three Marines said his son died in combat in Najaf, Iraq.
After the hour-long meeting, everyone stepped outside, and Arredondo saluted and embraced the Marines.
“Whatever happened out there wasn’t about them,” he said afterward. “I wanted them to understand I am very, very sorry.”
Arredondo and his wife, Melida, talked to the Marines about two scholarships in his son’s name – one created by the Marines and the other by Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton, Mass.
The younger Arredondo, a 2002 graduate of Blue Hills, was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he died.
“I couldn’t believe they were saying that to me when I was waiting for my son to call,” said Arredondo, who was working on a fence in his Hollywood yard. He ran to the back yard to tell his mother and called his son Brian, 17, who lives in Bangor, Maine, with Arredondo’s ex-wife, Victoria Foley.
“I got very upset. I felt like it was a bad joke or bad dream,” he said. “I was crying. … I was calling for Alex.”
Arredondo grabbed a propane torch and a gasoline can from his garage, yelled at the Marines to leave, smashed their van window with a hammer and climbed inside.
Arredondo’s mother grabbed his left hand to pull him out, and he said he mistakenly turned on the torch trying to brace himself. An explosion blew him out of the van.
The Marines put out the flames on his body. Jackson Memorial Hospital has given him an extended payment plan to pay his $43,000 bill for burns that covered 26 percent of his body.
As a personal penance, Arredondo has visited veterans in Boston hospitals and talked to other families who have lost children in Iraq.
The family has put together more than 10 scrapbooks about his son’s life and death.