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A Celebration of Life

September 25, 2010 -- Adrianna G. Vargo

"He was always a hero to me long before he became a soldier."

When I left for boarding school, Todd was about the age my son is now. I remember loving the way he always smelled of dirt and sunshine and sweat—that perfect little boy smell. And the sheer exuberance of him barreling out the front door to play will forever make me smile.


I wold return  home from school and he would somehow charm me into doing his homework for him. He would beg for my help and then slowly make a retreat, saying something like “You're doing a great job” as he flew outside to play. He made sure to always give me the “busy work” so I couldn’t make the argument that he wasn’t going to learn the lesson.


There were not many people who could say no to Todd. Imagine a large, open-air market in Nigeria full of unfamiliar sights, sounds, and smells. And, off by himself, a little white kid—around eight years old—haggling over the price of some wooden toy and holding his own in the process. At just the right time he would pull out his favorite line—“small boy, small price” and the whole place would erupt with laughter—no boundaries, no worries about the cultural, political, or economic differences—just joy—and of course Todd would leave with the toy—most likely for free. 


It is easy to look at the man Todd became and see the remarkable strength of character he had. But, what is truly remarkable is that all of this was also evident in him as a young boy. It always felt a little strange to me the way I so admired my little brother when he was just a boy, nine years my junior. And how he was always a hero to me—long before he became a soldier. I have been thinking about that a lot lately. From a very young age he was able to embrace so much of humanity. He was confident yet humble, competitive yet fair minded, hilarious yet serious. These dualities seemingly existing in complete harmony within him.


While I will always have a deep and abiding sense of pride for Todd’s courage, commitment and his patriotism, it is the mundane I will cherish most.  The memory of Todd lounging on my parents couch, playing with Kiley, teasing Emma; and the knowledge that, though as siblings we had all gone our own ways and started our own families; those early family ties from childhood are strong and enduring because we have shared a million such mundane memories. 


In that spirit I would like to read Todd’s last e-mail update sent to family. There is nothing remarkable about it. It is a collection of words, but they are his words and they are the last words I have from him, written on September 7. 


“Hey Everyone

Things here are still doing well. The biggest hang up right now is still the improvement of our combat outpost. We have been waiting and waiting for engineers and supplies. Not having showers, gravel, A/C etc. is fine but after a month and a half it starts to get old. Plus a lot of people are starting to get sick because of the living conditions—no matter what you do, you can’t escape the dirt. Outside of that the platoon is doing well and continues to perform well on patrol. I got a bunch of packages a couple of days ago— Thank you very much. Emma sent me some short video clips of Kiley during her 1st Birthday which was great to see. Watching the videos is really the first time I’ve seen her walk around at length. Well I need to get going. I hope all is well. I’ll write again soon.


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