By Stephan Manning.

Like many others, I was shocked at the bombings during the Boston Marathon yesterday on Patriots’ Day. And like many others, I felt inspired by the heroic effort of Carlos Arredondo in helping victims and preventing more severe casualties. But Carlos Arredondo is not just a random helper in a hat, but a long-term peace activist. In 2004, his son Alexander was killed in the Iraq war. In 2011, his other son Brian committed suicide being unable to cope with the loss of his brother.

Since 2004, both Carlos and his wife Melida have been actively opposing the ongoing U.S. military engagement in Iraq. As part of their efforts, they became members of the organization Gold Star Families for Peace – a community of families of soldiers who died in the war – whose mission was “to be a positive force in our world to bring our country’s sons and daughters home from Iraq, [and] to minimize the human cost of this war” (see Wikipedia entry). Since 2011, both have dedicated themselves to supporting military families who have suffered from suicides and mental trauma (see related article by Colonel Ann Wright).

The reason why Carlos came to this year’s Boston marathon was because one of the runners was honoring his dead son Alexander. Carlos expected the runner to make it to the finish line between 2 and 3 pm. The explosion occurred around 2:50 pm. Carlos did not think twice about rushing to the horrible scene and doing everything he could – as an American Red Cross volunteer – to help people in need and to assist the relief effort.

To me, Carlos Arredondo is a true patriot. Not just because of his heroic deeds on Patriots’ Day. But because throughout his life, especially following the death of his son Alexander, he simply did what he felt was right at any moment. No matter if he put his own life in danger or not. No matter if his actions were appreciated or if he had to swim against the political mainstream.

In fact, Carlos Arredondo is a patriot because he does not believe in empty symbols. In 2007, he was attacked by members of the Gathering of Eagles, a right-wing group, during an anti-war march in Washington D.C., because he was allegedly holding the American flag upside down. I wonder how many of these attackers knew what it’s like to lose someone in a war. In particular a war that could hardly be justified. A war that had nothing to do with protecting America. A war that made many Americans feel ashamed of their home country. Sometimes, being patriotic means questioning the symbols that turn citizens into blind followers.

Boston marathon Carlos Arredondo Carlos Arredondo is also a patriot because, being born in Costa Rica, he and his wife have made enormous efforts to reach out to Spanish-speaking families in the U.S. who have suffered from the loss of relatives in a war initiated and promoted by the U.S. government. The same government that cared relatively little about fair immigration laws and related rights for Hispanic and other minorities in the U.S. Knowing that George W. Bush passed a law in 2004 to allow parents of those killed in action to become legal immigrants does not make it any better. In fact, how cynical is that? Only if you lose a child in a war you have demonstrated sufficient patriotism to deserve legal immigrant status? How about all the families with children wounded – physically or mentally? How about all the parents who allow their kids to go to war in the first place – for a country that does not even recognize them as legal residents? To me, supporting those families is not only a great human effort, but a true act of patriotism.

And Carlos Arredondo is a patriot because he does not give up. So many people with a similar personal experience have lost hope or have become cynical. I do not know what has kept Carlos Arredondo from joining the club of the resigned and indifferent. It amazes me how he has maintained his belief in the spirit of America, in the spirit of the Boston Marathon, in the spirit of peace and understanding – when the time of war and U.S. military engagements is not over yet (or never will be).

Maybe the United States needs more people like Carlos Arredondo. But the fact alone that there are people in the U.S. like him, who carry a human spirit of patriotism, makes me hopeful and feel good about living in America – as a foreigner, like so many others, like Carlos Arredondo.

Further references

Wikipedia entry on Carlos Arredondo

Democracy Now! Featuring Carlos Arredondo (April 16 2013)

Article by Colonel Ann Wright: “More Costs of War: Suicides and Mental Trauma of Military Family Members”

American Red Cross Volunteering

U.S. News: “The man in the hat at Boston Marathon finish line: Carlos Arredondo didn’t set out to be hero” (April 15 2013)

Original source of the picture:

The Guardian: “Carlos Arredondo hailed as hero for Boston Marathon rescue efforts” (April 16 2013)