Iraq Casualty Turns Wedding Plans to Tragedy

Twenty-two-year-old Robert Pope didn't wait until he was home from Iraq to get married. He married his wife Lynnea by proxy, and made plans to hold a real wedding when he got back to Long Island. Instead, his family held a funeral for Army Cpl. Pope.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

NPR, of course, has been remembering the lives of many Americans who served overseas, including Army Corporal Bobby Pope. He married his wife Lynnea by proxy. He mailed in the marriage papers from Iraq a few months ago so that she would be eligible for survivors' benefits, just in case. On November 9th, Pope was killed on foot patrol in Baghdad. He was 22 years old. He was buried last week on Long Island. Gene Bryan Johnson has our report this morning.

GENE BRYAN JOHNSON reporting:

Just about everyone who knew Bobby Pope talks about his sense of humor, but five years ago, when he turned in a paper describing the person who had influenced him most, East Islip High School's 11th grade English teacher, Joan Dlouhy, was pleasantly surprised.

Ms. JOAN DLOUHY (Teacher): His sister, who has cerebral palsy, was the love of his life, and when I read his paper, I was just awestruck, because it was a side I had never known. A lot of times, you listen to and see 17-year-old boys, you don't really see that side of them.

JOHNSON: Sensitivity and commitment were traits that would consistently reveal themselves as Pope got older. He enlisted after 9/11 because, relatives say, he had to do something. At the time, his uncle, Tom Brouder(ph), advised him to join the military police.

Mr. TOM BROUDER (Bobby Pope's Uncle): I said, `You know, you could guard things. It's good. You're in the back. You're guarding things.' Not that you don't get killed, but he wanted to fight for America, so...

JOHNSON: So he did.

Mr. BROUDER: Yeah, he did. We thought he was coming home. We always called him Little Bobby, because when he was growing up, his dad was Bob, so he was always Little Bobby, and, you know, we'd send him letters and stuff, and he wrote back, `Thanks a lot, from not-so-little Bob.'

Unidentified Man: Attention...

JOHNSON: `Not-so-little Bob' was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. Quinn Sullivan(ph) came to the funeral to represent her brother, who was Pope's Army roommate in Iraq.

Ms. QUINN SULLIVAN (Sister of Pope's Roommate): They had good laughs together, and Casey was going to be Bobby's best man in him and Lynnea's wedding when they had their ceremony back here.

JOHNSON: But a wedding ceremony was not to be. Instead, relatives gathered at the local funeral home before the short drive down Main Street to St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church of East Islip. Robert Pope Sr. believes his son is an American hero.

Mr. ROBERT POKE Sr. (Father): He was the best, and I'm the proudest, and I just thank God that he was my son.

JOHNSON: The father puffs on a cigarette, but the smoke does not hide the tears in his bloodshot eyes or the trembling in his shoulders.

For NPR News, this is Gene Bryan Johnson in Suffolk County, New York.

INSKEEP: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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