Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Remembering Montgomery’s fallen

Eight from the county have died in Iraq, Afghanistan

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Paula Davis wants people to remember her son, Justin Davis.

Davis died on June 25, 2006, at 19 in a faraway land in a war that many don’t want to think about and that she fears is forgotten.

On Memorial Day, she hopes his death in Afghanistan is remembered.

‘‘The greatest fear we have is people will forget about our kids,” Paula Davis said. ‘‘We feel like nobody else is sacrificing, but our loved ones and their families. We don’t want them to be forgotten.”

Eight soldiers from Montgomery County have died in Iraq or Afghanistan: Sgt. Alessandro Carbonaro; Spec. Thomas K. Doerflinger; Spec. Thomas J. Barbieri; Spec. Armer N. Burkart; Pfc. Justin R. Davis; Staff Sgt. Robert Hernandez; Spec. Jonathan D. Cadavero; and Cpl. Kirk J. Bosselman.

Paula Davis had worried when her son told her he wanted to enlist in the military. She has pictures of him when he was in elementary school dressed in Army fatigues. He played with G.I. Joes as a young boy. But she did not want him to enlist and tried to talk him out of it.

‘‘We had some debates,” she said. ‘‘I was clipping articles out of The Post every day about casualties. I’d ask him to read those. We debated back and forth about the war and his joining at this time with the country at war. But at the end, I knew that’s where his heart was and I supported him.”

As a mother, she knew she could have manipulated him, but it would have created a rift because she saw how much it meant to him to enlist.

‘‘At the end I knew that’s where his heart was and I supported him,” she said. ‘‘But he had to bring me around. We had some heated debates before I accepted before he was going to go in.”

‘‘Justin was brash,” she said. ‘‘He was adventurous. He always wanted to be a hero. He wanted to be the one to go in and save the day.”

Paula Davis, a single mother, lived with Justin in Gaithersburg. She believes he was drawn to being surrounded by people in the Army, of belonging to the military’s ‘‘brotherhood.”

When he asked for the infantry, she was filled with anxiety.

Her job sent her to a conference in Wyoming. Davis said she feared going in case the military arrived to tell her news of her son and she wasn’t there.

That is exactly what happened. The officers waited from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. outside her apartment, not knowing she was out of town. They tracked her down through an emergency contact number.

A casualty notification worker called her at the hotel and asked if she was alone and told her an officer would meet her.

She said she pleaded to know what happened. When she saw an officer arrive at the lobby, she ran to him.

‘‘He said, ‘Ms. Davis, the United States Army is sorry ...” she said. ‘‘That’s all I heard. I immediately went into shock.”

As she recounted the events, her voice cracked. Months later she learned he probably died from a mortar shell fired by fellow soldiers during a battle in Korengal Outpost, Afghanistan.

‘‘Whether he was hit by enemy fire, would that have made it any less sadder?” Davis said. ‘‘No, because I know they were aiming for the enemy. So they called for a mortar attack. It’s not a perfect science. ... It’s painful regardless. I bear no anger or ill will towards the military.”

Davis said she plans to spend Memorial Day the same way she does every Sunday. She takes fresh flowers to his tombstone in Arlington National Cemetery.

‘‘I’m comforted by the other parents,” she said. ‘‘I take my chair and greet whoever comes by to visit or leave a note. Some of his comrades or friends come by and I just spend the day there. The parents that are there will laugh and talk and cry on each other’s shoulders. That’s generally what we do on Sundays and that feels right at this time.”

Sgt. Alessandro Carbonaro

Memorial Day for many people will be just another day off. But for Gilda Carbonaro, Monday will mark the second Memorial Day since her son’s death.

‘‘It’s a hard time. It does not get easier the second year for us,” Carbonaro said from her home in Bethesda. ‘‘It’s just a reminder that while everybody else may have forgotten there is a war going on, for us we haven’t forgotten. The fact that our son died in this war is a reminder that other kids are still over there and are still dying every day.”

Alessandro Carbonaro — or Alex, as he was known to family and friends — died from his wounds on May 10, 2006, at a hospital in Germany. Alex was on his second tour of duty as a Marine in Iraq when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb on May 1. He was 28.

‘‘I don’t regret [my son enlisting in the military] because I always respected my son’s wishes, and he wanted to discover himself,” his mother said.

Since Alex’s death, Gilda has revived her work with anti-war groups, including Veterans Against the War.

‘‘We lived in a different world when he enlisted. We were at peace. And when the most important country in the world goes to war and destabilizes the Middle East it’s a totally different world,” Gilda Carbonaro said.

Families in Gilda’s situation are in it together, she said.

‘‘We are all parents and they were our children, so we grieve the same. These are my opinions and I hold them because I was against this war before my son enlisted, not suddenly because my son was deployed,” Gilda Carbonaro said. ‘‘We all had our hearts wrenched out of us, and that doesn’t change.”

Spec. Thomas K. Doerflinger

When Spec. Thomas K. Doerflinger went off to war, the 20-year-old Silver Spring man told his family and friends he would be safe. The 2002 Springbrook High School graduate told of being tracked overseas by a collection agency for overdue videos in Silver Spring.

But on Nov. 11, 2004, Veterans Day, he was killed by small arms fire after a month in Iraq.

‘‘Our son Thomas was a smart, dedicated, wonderful young man who volunteered for the Army to serve his country and protect innocent people. He understood the risks of his chosen path, and gave his life doing what he had committed himself to doing — standing against those who have no respect for human life. Even as we grieve for our loss, we honor the ideals he stood for and ask others to do the same,” his parents, Richard and Lee Ann Doerflinger said in a statement at the time. They did not return calls for this story.

A teacher at the time described Doerflinger as highly intelligent and filled with potential who joined the military to develop self-discipline.

‘‘He was sometimes frustratingly withdrawn ... and then he’d come out with something that was brilliantly insightful,” his teacher, Thomas Tobin said. ‘‘... He was a very bright kid.”

Spec. Thomas J. Barbieri

At the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, Thomas J. Barbieri of North Potomac was renowned for his cooking and his courage.

Barbieri, known as ‘‘T.J.” to his friends, died on Aug. 23, 2006, from small arms fire south of Baghdad in Iraq. He joined the Army in 2004, went to Afghanistan in 2005 and then to Iraq with the 82nd Airborne Division. He earned a Silver Star and a Purple Heart.

As a volunteer emergency medical technician and firefighter, he was always quick with a smile no matter how grim a situation, said Eric N. Bernard, president of the Rockville Volunteer Fire Department.

‘‘He was a great young man,” Bernard said. ‘‘Very friendly. The boy could cook, and at the firehouse the cooking skills are noticed quicker and appreciated more than the firefighting skills. He fit right in.”

Barbieri came from a tight-knit family, the second of four brothers.

‘‘He was a great person, a great brother, a thoughtful brother,” said his mother, Carolann Barbieri in an interview shortly after Barbieri’s death. ‘‘The brothers had a closeness that was unusual.”

Barbieri’s death struck the department hard, Bernard said. ‘‘It was terrible,” he said. ‘‘I’ve been here 22 years and I can’t remember such a somber time, a miserable time. That’s where for me the war really hit home,” he said.

Spec. Armer N. Burkart

Last May, Magruder High School premiered a new work for orchestra and choir to honor a former band mate, Armer N. Burkart.

Burkart, a student at Magruder from 1993 to 1997, died on May 11, 2006, in Baghdad when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. At 26, it was his second combat tour. His first was in Afghanistan.

‘‘He is missed and the members of the music department and the Magruder community could think of no better way to honor him than with a new work in his memory by one of his own friends,” said Mark Eisenhower, director of bands at Magruder High School at the time of the memorial concert.

Staff Sgt. Robert Hernandez

As a corporal with the Prince George’s County Police in Bowie, Robert Hernandez was known as the type of police officer who really got to know the people where he patrolled. The Silver Spring man wasn’t designated a community police officer, he just had an outgoing personality that cared about people, fellow officers said.

‘‘He loved talking to people,” said Prince George’s County Police Lt. Dean Jones, first vice president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 89 where Hernandez was a member. ‘‘He had a good rapport with the citizens of the Bowie area. He really reached out and connected with the community in a unique way.”

On March 28, 2006, the Army Reserve soldier was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near his Humvee during combat in Taquaddum, Iraq. Hernandez, 47, left behind a fiancée and three children.

‘‘He was a great guy,” said Jones, who had been assigned to the academy when Hernandez went through, said he remembered him as a quiet cadet. ‘‘He was quiet, but his smile was infectious.”

Cpl. Kirk J. Bosselmann

Marine Cpl. Kirk J. Bosselmann, 21, of Dickerson, was remembered as a dedicated volunteer firefighter, avid sportsman, and loving friend and family member.

Bosselmann, a 2001 Poolesville High School graduate, volunteered at the Upper Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Department in Beallsville. He was on his second tour of duty at the time of his death.

Friends said Bosselmann played soccer and lacrosse in high school, went bow hunting for deer and hunting for waterfowl in any weather, and encouraged the other two to join the Beallsville fire department in their senior year of high school.

‘‘It seemed like whatever we were doing, we were doing it together,” his friend Mike Phillips recalled at the time.

Spec. Jonathan D. Cadavero

David Cadavero said that until recently he could not speak of his son Jonathan D. Cadavero without breaking down.

‘‘Now I can talk to you,” he said.

Jonathan Cadavero grew up wanting to be a soldier. As a youngster, he had a tradition of writing cards to veterans in the neighborhood to give them on Veterans Day. He took pride in the Ukrainian heritage of his grandparents who fled the communists, but he always had a tremendous amount of patriotism, his father said.

The 24-year-old Army medic was killed on Feb. 27, 2007, from an improvised explosive device in Baghdad. He had volunteered to serve with a unit of engineers that hunted for the makeshift bombs that have claimed many lives.

Jonathan Cadavero moved to Takoma Park to attend Columbia Union College. He promised his mother he would stay in college until he graduated but then intended to enlist.

‘‘He thought as a medic he could save the lives of his fellow soldiers, and the medic, if anything, is the one who has to go back into the center of battle,” his father said.

At his funeral service at Fort Drum, N.Y., a soldier walking with a cane approached his mother Nadia Cadavero to say he owed his life to her son.

‘‘He said they were in some village, and out of nowhere snipers were hitting them,” Nadia Cadavero said. ‘‘He said Jonny dove on him to protect him from any more bullets and then Jonny tended to his wounds. This is Jonny. He’d always think of somebody else before he’d think of himself. He was the best son a mother could ever have.”

He left behind a wife, Michelle, he had married three months earlier while on leave from Iraq. She was a military police officer he met in Iraq. She’s now attending school in North Carolina.

His mother, Nadia Cadavero, said she keeps in touch with his widow, usually through writing.

‘‘It’s hard for me to call her,” she said. ‘‘Whenever we’d get on the phone we’d both start crying. I cry enough during the day and I cry myself asleep every night.”

Staff Writer Janel Davis contributed to this report.