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A Father Rembers His Son, and Draws Lessons from the War

Between today and tomorrow, the body of First Lieutenant Andrew Bacevich is expected to arrive at Hanscom Air Force Base.

Bacevich was killed by a suicide bomber on a main road in the Sunni triangle, North of Baghdad, on Mothers' Day. Funeral services will be held Monday at St Timothy's Church, in Norwood, near the Walpole home of his parents.

His father is Boston University Professor Andrew Bacevich, himself a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. A professor of international relations at Boston University, Bacevich has been a critic of the war from a traditional conservative perspective, opposed to the use of the American military unless vital U.S. interests are at stake.

He spoke about his relationship with his son to WBUR's Fred Thys.TEXT OF STORY

FRED THYS: Andrew Bacevich is between meetings about funeral arrangements for his son. Bacevich says when he was younger, he himself had thoughts of being buried at Arlington National Cemetery, but he can't imagine burying his son there. "We would never visit his grave, except once every six years," he says. Andrew and Nancy Bacevich have decided to bury their son in Walpole, so they can visit his grave often. Asked what he would like people to know about his son, Bacevich says the question catches him by surprise.

ANDREW BACEVICH: As a father, you never think you're going to be asked to explain what others should remember your son for.

THYS: Bacevich's ordeal is one that fathers across the country are going through, but he is able to articulate that grief as few people can.

BACEVICH: Our boy, in growing up, was never the star athlete.

THYS: And yet, at Boston University, Andy Bacevich decided he'd run a Boston Marathon two days before the race. He ran as a bandit, a runner without a number, and turned in a respectable time. He ran several more marathons. Bacevich says he and his wife did not encourage their son to join the Army, nor did they discourage him. At BU, the younger Bacevich was in ROTC, but was dropped when it was discovered that he'd had childhood asthma. Later, while he was working for Governor Mitt Romney, the Army lifted its restriction on people with asthma. He enlisted as a private, and after basic training, went on to Officer Candidate School.

BACEVICH: And I have to say I was enormously proud of the fact that in a sense, he got his commission the hard way, no pampered college kid.

THYS: The younger Bacevich was commissioned in the same branch that his father had served in, the Armored branch of the Army. He became a platoon leader in the First Cavalry Division at Fort Hood. His orders to Iraq came last year, but the younger Bacevich wanted to run the Boston Marathon one more time.

BACEVICH: And I wanted to get him a bib number, so that he could be a... We did, and he ran it again, and finished.

THYS: The younger Bacevich deployed in October. His father wrote to him almost every day, but not wanting to burden his son, never discussed the war. And Andy, in turn, kept things from his parents. Since Andy died, a friend forwarded an e-mail he'd received from Andy to his father. In it, Andy talks about soldiers in his platoon being wounded.

BACEVICH: Andy had not told us about that, so he was trying not to burden us with worry.

THYS: There is a thought that Bacevich never shared with his son Andy, because he didn't want to burden him with it. He served in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971, when it was clear, he says, that the war was not going to be won, and was probably headed toward some dismal conclusion, and his son goes to Iraq in 2006, when it's apparent to his father that the war is not going to be won.

BACEVICH: And is probably headed for some dismal conclusion, so our kinship is that we, he and I, had a knack for picking the wrong war in which to serve.

THYS: Even through his pain, as a thoughtful critic of the war, Bacevich draws larger observations about the state of the country, striking observations about the state of American democracy that he makes while asking new questions about his obligations as a citizen and as a father.

BACEVICH: One of the things that I've been really struggling with over the last several days is to try to understand my own responsibility for my son's death.

THYS: Bacevich says he thought that his responsibility as a citizen was to give voice to his concerns about the war and that his voice, united with others, would make a difference, but, he realized now it doesn't make any difference.

BACEVICH: The American people spoke very clearly in November of 2006 in rejecting the policies of the Bush administration and emphatically rejecting the war policies.

THYS: And yet, he says, the war continues. The Democrats maneuver. The concerns about the presidential election of 2008 seems to take precedence over what he calls the slowly evolving tragedy in Iraq, and so, he asks himself:

BACEVICH: What kind of democracy is this when the people do speak, and the people's voice is unambiguous, but nothing happens?

THYS: Through the anguish he feels, Bacevich's modesty comes through, as does his struggle to maintain the cold objective eye that he has trained himself to have as an observer of the war, even when considering his son's qualities. He says he's heard from Andhy's company commander, his platoon sergeant, and some of his soldiers.

BACEVICH: And of course, after he's deceased, they all say the things you would expect them to say.

THYS: He's biased, he says, but they all ring true: that Andy cared about the men he led, that he did his best in very trying circumstances to take care of them, to lead them effectively, to try to get the platoon's job done in an honorable way.

BACEVICH: I don't know that he was the greatest soldier in the history of the United States of America, but I know he was a good soldier, and I know he was our only son.

This program aired on May 18, 2007. The audio for this program is not available.

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