A Marine Is Killed in Iraq, and Grief Ripples at Home
By SARAH KERSHAW
ORTLAND, Ore., July 24 His family wanted a "showboat funeral" for Cpl. Travis J. Bradach-Nall, a 21-year-old marine who was killed in Iraq clearing mines on July 1. And that meant hiring stretch limousines.
It took seven to carry them all: Uncle John, Uncle James, Uncle Joel, Uncle Sam, Uncle Mike, Aunt Katie, Aunt Molly, Aunt Laurie, Aunt Sally and her husband, Uncle Frank 18 aunts and uncles in all.
Then there were the cousins, dozens of them, including Jack, Christopher and Riley, who as boys traveled with Travis in a pack of four. There was Bobby, the baby sitter, and James, Travis's close friend from Grant High School, who set off a tall pile of fireworks last week "a 21, two-liter-bomb salute," he called it to say goodbye to Travis with 30 of his friends.
At the head of the procession, of course, was Corporal Bradach-Nall's mother, Lynn Bradach, 51, and his younger brother, Nick Nall, 19, the two people at the center of this wide circle of sadness, a close-knit clan of more than 100 relatives and friends in Portland rippling now with the grief of one marine's death.
Corporal Bradach-Nall's mother and brother were among those most relieved that he had made it through the war itself all 37 marines in his unit, Second Platoon, Charlie Company, came out alive, surviving a harrowing ambush near Nasiriya in southern Iraq in late March.
And they are the two who perhaps wish most desperately that Corporal Bradach-Nall had not volunteered to stay on for an extra three months, instead of returning safely with the others on June 21.
President Bush declared the major combat officially over on May 1, but more than 100 service members have died since then, either in continued fighting, accidents, ambushes or on reconstruction tasks, according to the Department of Defense. For the families of the 148,000 members of armed services still in Iraq, the volatile situation can feel something like being forced into a game of Russian roulette.
"I would be sick, I was sick," Ms. Bradach said, describing how she felt when her son told her that he and a few close friends from his platoon had decided to stay. "But he truly told me he would be all right. And I truly would say: `I have to believe you, I have got to believe you.' I know he loved Nick and I so much."
Ms. Bradach, who was divorced and reared her two sons alone, was racked with worry. "I was always worried," she said. "When he went rafting I worried, when he did anything I worried. But this, I was like, `Oh my God.' "
Still, she had allowed herself to hope, and to make tentative plans: a trip to Las Vegas this summer for an overdue birthday celebration for Travis, who turned 21 in February. It was a request he first made when he was 12.
Ms. Bradach's voice mail greeting still says, "Hi, give the cellphone a try especially you, Travis!"
And since her son was killed, she has received four letters he sent from Iraq, including one that arrived the day of his funeral, and a package containing a rug he had bought for her. But she has not had the strength to open any of them, she said.
The whole family had hoped Travis would be home this summer for the annual Bradach family camping trip to Cape Lookout on the Oregon coast, or at least join them for another family dinner at the Spaghetti Factory. And in the fall, or perhaps next year, he was supposed to join his cousin and brother at Southern Oregon University to study English.
Instead, every member of the family is doing something to pay tribute to Travis, the rebellious, drum-playing, comical, heavily tattooed marine who loved the sound of explosions even when he was a boy, his family and friends said.
Virtually everyone, even the relatives who hated all his tattoos, is planning to get some kind of memorial tattoo: a gold star for his mother. "Ghostbusters" for Nick and the male cousins, because for years Travis pretended to be a "Ghostbuster" after he saw the movie. Drumsticks for Aunt Katie, and a dagger for Uncle James, like the one Travis had across his arm.
And all of them, already devastated by the death last March of Corporal Bradach-Nall's maternal grandparents in a car fire that the police here ruled a double suicide, are coping in different ways.
Ms. Bradach, the second of 10 children, is jogging a lot, which she said helped her deal with the feeling "that my heart was ripped out." She is also contemplating running a marathon and planning to take as much political action as she can fit into her schedule, she said.
She was always a liberal Democrat, she said, and had signed various petitions circulating in Portland against the war, even as she found herself in the awkward position of trying to support the military, her son's employer.
Now she plans to join the international campaign to ban land mines and do whatever she can to get a Democrat elected president in 2004, she said.
"I don't ever do anything that would hurt the Marines," she said. "However, I want everything to come out about why decisions were made. And I don't want to hear, `Well, you know what, it's over now, the decision was made.' You know what? If you make a wrong decision, you have to pay for that. I want to make sure that changes are made or people are held accountable for what happened."
As she spoke, she often pointed to what the family calls "the board," three giant collages plastered with photographs of Corporal Bradach-Nall, from when he was a toddler wearing Coke-bottle glasses before he had the operation for his lazy eye to his last days as a marine. He was killed by an explosion in a minesweeping operation near Karbala, in south-central Iraqi.
Corporal Bradach-Nall was estranged from his father, Gary Nall, who did not attend the funeral, the relatives said. But while Travis was in Iraq, he told several of his fellow marines that he planned to try to see his father when he returned home.
A few of them called Mr. Nall after Travis was killed to pass on that message, said Mr. Nall's father, John Nall, who lives with his son near Portland and said his son was away this week and that he had no idea how to reach him.
"He was hit awfully hard," the elder Mr. Nall said. "It hit us all pretty hard."
Katie Bradach Aunt Katie who often joined her sister and two nephews on their family vacations, is spending as much time as she can with her sister, at the house in northeast Portland. She is, as her sister said, one of the main "baby sitters" who come to the house to make sure Ms. Bradach is not alone.
"He wrote me a letter," Katie Bradach, 36, said, crying. "He said, `Make sure to take care of Mom. Make sure she doesn't go crazy.' That's what I'm supposed to be doing, making sure she doesn't go crazy. Every day, I figure that's what I'm doing for him."
John F. Bradach Sr. Uncle John, 52 reads the Bible "sometimes it gives me insight and sometimes it doesn't," he said and watches the sun go down.
James Bradach Uncle James, 44 recently returned from a seven-day trek around Mount Hood with his three dogs.
Christopher Bradach, a cousin born a few months after Travis, is working on a Travis memorial videotape, overlaying old home movies with his cousin's voice and the "Ghostbusters" soundtrack.
Riley and Danny Bradach, two other cousins, wrote a long obituary, which was published in The Portland Oregonian shortly after Corporal Bradach-Nall was killed.
"Everyone was talking about him as this gung-ho marine," said Riley Bradach, 22, who along with about 10 other relatives and friends drifted in and out of his cousin's house last Sunday, typical for a Sunday. "We wanted to put a face on him. He wasn't just a marine."
The obituary read: "Travis died serving his country. But his true loyalty was at home with his family. Above all things living were his mother and younger brother. Travis's pride for his family was never a secret.
"While deployed in the Middle East, he wrote home, telling his aunts and uncles to warn boys interested in his female cousins. `If a tattooed marine doesn't scare him,' Travis wrote, `I don't know what will.' "