Hit Hard By War, Fall River Reflects On Bin Laden's Death

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Paul Barrett, right, father of fallen U.S. National Guard Sgt. Robert Barrett, receives a hug as Paul's wife Carlene, left, looks on at the funeral of their son in April 2010. (AP)
Paul Barrett, right, father of fallen U.S. National Guard Sgt. Robert Barrett, receives a hug as Paul's wife Carlene, left, looks on at the funeral of their son in April 2010. (AP)

In the past year, five young men in this community have lost their lives fighting in the two wars that started because of Osama bin Laden and the Sept. 11 attacks. For their friends and family, the news of the al-Qaida leader's death brought a particular sense of pride and justice.

A Family Remembers Its Son

One of those men was U.S. National Guard Sgt. Robert Barrett, who was killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomber on April 19, 2010. At his family's modest home, adorned with American flags and tributes to Robert, his grandmother, Sue Galloway, sat on the porch the afternoon after bin Laden's death. Beside her was her great-granddaughter, Sophie — Robert's 3-year-old daughter.

The night before, Galloway had watched President Obama's announcement on television with Robert's mother. She said they largely kept their feelings to themselves as they listened to the news. "I was just kind of happy that he was gone," Galloway explained. "Because of all the chaos that he's created in America itself — and all of the boys that he is at fault of killing. Especially here in Fall River."

The week before had been the one-year anniversary of Robert's death. While Galloway says bin Laden's death doesn't make the loss of her grandson any easier, she says it marks the time to get the other soldiers out of Afghanistan and Iraq. "Bring all these boys, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters — bring them home to their families. That's where they belong," she said, her voice straining.

"My grandson is never coming home. But it don't mean that he's not here, because he is," she said, looking to her great-granddaughter. "Right there. In Sophie. He was a great kid. I miss him, I miss him so much it's unbelievable. And I have 14 grandchildren."

'I Knew I Was Getting Into A Military Relationship'

Since the news of bin Laden's death, Robert's girlfriend, Alyssa Baracewicz, has struggled to articulate her feelings. She wasn't ready to speak about it, saying she needed a few days to let the information sink in, but she sent us a Facebook message, which is excerpted, unedited, below.

Initially when i heard the news last night of Osama's death i was stunned, I thought Finally! I wished that Rob was still alive to hear the news. But as my thoughts shifted to the future i began to think of all the troubles ahead for our country ... I am worried for our soldiers currently overseas and how this will affect their safety. When i started dating Rob i knew i was getting into a military relationship, Rob and his parents told me that he had planned to join the service since he was a young boy, and how much apart of his life the JROTC was when he was in high school. He loved everything about serving this country, and he always told me how much of an impact September 11th 2001 was on his life. It reassured him that when he grew up he would join the service. Almost a decade later he deployed and left his friends family and myself waiting for his return. When we found out last year ( April 19th 2010) of his death i was crushed, the love of my life had been killed by these awful people that hate the US. I was angry and in a way this news of Osama is pay back for all that hurt. but its not enough, i wish this war would end so no one has to go through what so many have gone through; bringing home a young soldiers to put to rest. I think Rob would agree with me, i think he would have been elated with the news of this achievement of the troops, finally after a decade of fighting we found the man that caused so many heart aches, but i think Rob would still be focused on the future or this war, and he would know realistically this is not the end, its just another chapter, we have to be careful of how Osama's followers are going to act towards us now.

Fall River's Long History of Service

Like many young men in Fall River, Barrett was big into ROTC when he went to school here at B.M.C. Durfee High School. Next week, the school will dedicate an entire wing to Barrett.

Retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. James Meyen, who oversees the ROTC program, remembers Barrett as an exceptional cadet whose love of the military defined his life. Meyen says much of the interest in the military among young people in Fall River is driven by economics. He estimates 80 percent of Durfee students live below the poverty line and, for them, the military is the best path to higher education.

Marcus Watson, a senior at Durfee, has been in ROTC for four years and overlapped with Barrett in the program. He says the older cadet is an inspiration to him.

"He taught me just how to be a leader and how to be a mentor to other people, because that's basically what Barrett was about," Watson said.

Watson said bin Laden's death makes the loss of Barrett a little easier. And he says the operation that killed the al-Qaida leader is part of the appeal of his dream of being a Navy SEAL.

"That's exactly the kind of thing I'm excited to do," Watson said. "I always thought it would be the SEALs that would take him down, because to me that's just the elite group of the special forces — that's my favorite group and what I've researched about them, the stealthiness, you figure you need a lot of stealth and things to get within a compound with a major person of al-Qaida."

Watson heads to Navy boot camp in June, just a month after he graduates high school.

This program aired on May 3, 2011.


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