LIANE HANSEN, host:
More than 2,000 US military personnel have died in Iraq since the US-led invasion in the spring of 2003. Marine Private First Class Andrew Bedard was killed last month by a roadside bomb. Kathy Witkowsky has this remembrance of the 19-year-old from Missoula, Montana.
KATHY WITKOWSKY reporting:
People who knew him say Andrew Bedard was polite and laid back with an easy smile and a gentle manner. His senior year English teacher, Carla Hinman(ph), describes the popular honor roll student as an old soul.
Ms. CARLA HINMAN (English Teacher): I guess I would say he was wise beyond his years, just that maturity level that you rarely see in a 17-year-old or 18-year-old.
WITKOWKY: His peers recognized that quality as well. Ben Brunsvold says Andrew cultivated and maintained an enormous network of friends, who relied on him for advice and support.
Mr. BEN BRUNSVOLD: It's a huge loss for a lot of people. The one person who would be the best person to talk to about this is the one that had to pass away.
WITKOWKY: Andrew was always available when his friends needed him. But, says Ben, he was reluctant to ask for much in return. Ben remembers the time Andrew spent the night at his house where he chose to sleep on the floor and insisted on paying for a snack he'd eaten.
Mr. BRUNSVOLD: In the morning I got up to go to work, and he was still sleeping. When I came home from work and he had left, he had folded the blanket and pillow that he was sleeping with, made my bed, put the blanket on my bed, and there was still a dollar in the granola bar box that he'd left.
WITKOWKY: That same desire to pay his own way, says Ben, was part of the reason Andrew signed up for the Marines' delayed entry program the summer before his senior year.
Mr. BRUNSVOLD: You know, he didn't want to burden his parents with the financial stresses of college. And so he figured that the Marines would be a good way for him to see the world a little bit, to get some money for college and some training and stay active while he figured out what he wanted to study in college.
WITKOWKY: Andrew's father, Denny Bedard, was somewhat surprised and a little anxious at his son's decision. But he says he felt more pride than worry.
Mr. DENNY BEDARD: He had an agenda, he had a plan and--was very proud of that and respected it, and not every kid at 17 has it laid out that well.
WITKOWKY: But Andrew wound up desperately missing the mountains and people at home. Whenever possible he made the 18-hour drive from his military base in Southern California, even if it was just to spend a day and a half in Missoula. He longed to join Ben Brunsvold and his other friends there at the University of Montana.
Mr. BRUNSVOLD: He wanted us to all be in Missoula when he came back. He asked us that repeatedly right before he shipped out. Before his deployment to Iraq, you know, he was, 'Are you guys going to be here in four years,' you know, 'because I'm coming back from school and I want you guys all to be here.'
WITKOWKY: Andrew hoped he'd enjoy college as much as he'd enjoyed high school. In a letter to himself, his final high school English assignment, he wrote about that and other dreams for his future.
Ms. HINMAN: 'I hope to travel for my next four years and visit interesting places.'
WITKOWKY: His teacher, Carla Hinman, had promised to send the letter to him in five years. Now she fights back tears as she reads Andrew's words.
Ms. HINMAN: 'I can do anything I want from here, and I am in no hurry to decide now. It is a great feeling being in my youth. Thanks for a great time, and I hope my four years of Marines are as fun as my four years in high school. Sincerely, Andrew Bedard.'
WITKOWKY: Andrew Bedard had been in Iraq just one month when he was killed. He was the only child of Denny and Michelle Bedard. For NPR News, I'm Kathy Witkowsky.
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