Maryland Son Dies in Iraq

Army First Lt. Robert Seidel died in Baghdad when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee. Seidel, who was 23, grew up in northern Maryland, a few miles down the road from the Gettysburg battlefield, which he often visited with his parents. They say when Seidel was in elementary school, he knew he wanted to be a soldier.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

First Lieutenant Robert Seidel III was in Baghdad last month when a roadside bomb exploded near his Humvee. The 23-year-old soldier was killed. Seidel's family said he had the wisdom of a much older soul who was prepared for war and its consequences.

Nancy Marshall-Genzer has this profile.

NANCY MARSHALL-GENZER reporting:

Rob Seidel's father first noticed his son's uncanny understanding of the price of war during the family's frequent visits to Gettysburg when Seidel was in elementary school. They only lived about eight miles away, in northern Maryland. Every other weekend they'd grab their bikes, pack a lunch and head to the battlefield. For Seidel's parents and younger brother it was just a picnic, but Rob Seidel's father, Bob Seidel, says for his older son, the outings were a learning experience.

Mr. BOB SEIDEL (Father of Rob Seidel): It used to astound me that a kid that age would be more interested in the battle, you know, where the troops may have engaged and, you know, in the fact at how many were killed as opposed to just, you know, can I have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or, you know? It's just almost like a soul was reincarnated into Robby's body, because it's like he understood past wars and the sacrifices made.

MARSHALL-GENZER: In fifth grade, Seidel wrote a poem about the death of a family friend in Vietnam. Then he announced he was going to West Point.

Sure, honey, said his mother, thinking it was a phase. But it wasn't. His mother, Sandy Seidel, sitting at her kitchen table in Gettysburg, reaches for copy of an essay her son wrote as part of his West Point application.

Seidel was asked how he would feel about sending soldiers into battle. He wrote, I could not, in good conscience, ask these soldiers to sacrifice their lives if I weren't first willing to do the same. Seidel's mother respected his resolve.

Ms. SANDY SEIDEL (Mother of Rob Seidel): You know, from a young age he knew what direction he was going and I don't think anything we could have said would have changed that. And even his brother said to me, mom you know, knowing the outcome, if Robby had it to do all over again, he would have chosen the same path.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Seidel graduated from West Point in 2004. He was deployed to Iraq last August. When Seidel was home on leave in February, he told his brother to take care of their parents if anything happened to him. He also had a heart to heart with his father.

Mr. SEIDEL: I truly believe that people sense when they're time is near on Earth and I think Robby was no different and you can pretty much see that in his last poem he wrote out in the desert.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Sandy Seidel pulls out a copy of the poem, reading the last few lines Seidel wrote about his platoon.

Ms. SEIDEL: And as my father, I ask the Lord as I pray, watch over my boys if today is my day.

MARSHALL-GENZER: That was also the theme of a country song Seidel's parents noticed him singing over and over again as he was getting ready to return to Iraq from his February home leave.

Mr. SEIDEL: Him and I were coming back from somewhere and there was a song, a Brad Paisley song, on the radio and the title of the song is When I Get Where I'm Going and it was just so prophetic.

MARSHALL-GENZER: Seidel's parents say it helps a lot to know their son was prepared for death and died doing what he loved.

For NPR News, I'm Nancy Marshall-Genzer.

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