Robert A. Seidel III
Robert A. Seidel III (Submitted)
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Bob Seidel worried about his son's future.

As a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point, his oldest child, Robert A. Seidel III, could be deployed to a brewing war on terrorism.

Bob Seidel took his son aside and asked him if he really, really wanted to be in the service.

"Believe me, no parent wants their child to go to war," he said. "I told him, 'You could leave here and go to regular college if you want.

An end table at the Seidels’ home holds a photo of their son 1st Lt. Robert A. Seidel III and a candle dedicated to his memory.
An end table at the Seidels' home holds a photo of their son 1st Lt. Robert A. Seidel III and a candle dedicated to his memory. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Kate Penn)
Your mother and I will help you.'"

His son listened, but didn't respond.

"He just walked away, because there was nothing to discuss," Bob Seidel said. "It was his decision, and he wanted to stay."

Seidel trained for the law and infantry. He'd test his lessons during a 2005 deployment to Iraq.

Two months before he was slated to come home, Seidel's life and military career ended. A detour from a humanitarian mission led the U.S. Army 1st lieutenant and his peers away from helping Iraqi farmers and into a trap.

On May 18, 2006, the Humvee carrying the platoon leader and three others rolled over a bomb that exploded.

They were killed instantly. The service members' deaths added to a list of thousands of U.S. servicemen and women who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.

Reports released by the U.S. Army in response to a Freedom of Information Act request were stripped of most names, ranks and locations. Appeals to get the names and other information were denied by national military officials, who said they were not obligated to release them because of what the Department of Defense said is a risk to soldiers because of terrorism.

Seidel's father, Bob Seidel, also requested copies of the reports on his son's death. He said he was satisfied with the investigation's conclusions.

"It was pretty cut and dry," Bob Seidel said. "They didn't even know what hit them."

Military investigators who looked into the fatal explosion said the convoy followed the mission and safety protocols.

"It is my opinion that this catastrophic incident could not have been prevented," an Army investigator wrote in his final report on the deaths. "It is evident that this patrol has been trained in (the security details), and done this task a few times since they have been in Iraq."

The investigative report contains handwritten witness statements from soldiers who were there the day Seidel and others died.

The medals earned by 1st Lt. Robert A. Seidel III are displayed with the flag that draped his casket at the family’s home in Adams County.
The medals earned by 1st Lt. Robert A. Seidel III are displayed with the flag that draped his casket at the family's home in Adams County. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Kate Penn)

"The enemy had selected this kill zone and was prepared," one witness to the explosion wrote in his description of the blast.

"We went to (the enemy)." 
 
A proud soldier

An Emmittsburg, Md., native, Seidel and his family later moved to Mount Joy Township in Adams County.

After watching the military miniseries "North and South," at about age 10, Seidel firmly told his parents he wanted to go to West Point.

"He just had this look on his face when he told us," his father said. "He was serious."

His dad believes living near battlefields where some of the Civil War's greatest struggles occurred might also have influenced his son. The family has connections to other historic conflicts, with relatives who served in World War I, World War II and Korea as members of three of the military's four branches.

After graduating from Catoctin High School in Thurmont, Md., in 2000, Robert Seidel would later attend the military training academy he'd been focused on since his childhood.

In his West Point application, he wrote, "I am fully aware, that along with my commitment to the military, there may come a time when young soldiers may lose their lives in the defense of our country."

He continued, "I could not, in good conscience, ask these soldiers to sacrifice their lives if I weren't first willing to do the same.

When 1st Lt. Robert A. Seidel III was alive, he helped his parents decorate their basement with sports memorabilia and military items. Since he was killed
When 1st Lt. Robert A. Seidel III was alive, he helped his parents decorate their basement with sports memorabilia and military items. Since he was killed in 2006, paintings and pictures of him have been added to the area. (Daily Record/Sunday News - Kate Penn)
 So it is for these men and women, who would stand by my side in the presence of death that I am willing to lay down my life for our country."

Seidel enjoyed his time at West Point, majoring in law and doing environmental engineering work. Fellow cadets recalled his leadership influence on them and his dedication to his family.

"When he would come home from West Point for short stays in the summer, he always called (his family)," Seidel's aunt, Marcie Seidel, wrote in an e-mail. "We would often meet for a tuna sandwich and a coke.

"He wasn't interested in fancy restaurants, the local diner was just fine with him."

Seidel graduated in 2004, and later became an Army Ranger before receiving a duty assignment that sent him to Fort Drum, N.Y. After a few months, he and his unit were sent to Iraq.

Before he left, Seidel was home for two weeks. He told his family not to worry about his deployment. He didn't seem anxious about going, they said.

"He told me, 'If anything happens, just remember, this is what I wanted to do,'" Bob Seidel said. "He loved serving his country, and this is what he wanted to do."

Seidel's cousin, Colleen Seidel, said the family would have group prayers for her cousin, "Robbie," using their faith to comfort them, and to ask God that Seidel be protected and brought home safely.

"We were all very aware of the fact that he was over there, and what could happen," the 21-year-old University of Pittsburgh senior said.
 

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The explosion

Witnesses remember the convoy traveling on its route, then the chaos of the explosion.

Seidel's platoon's mission started as a security force to escort a veterinarian team to Iraqi farmlands to help farmers and their flocks.

U.S. Army officials said service members are involved in a number of similar humanitarian missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, some of which put them in harm's way as much as infantry and other combat duty.

With other platoon leaders, Seidel was riding in the second Humvee in the five-vehicle convoy. On its way to the farms, the security detail was diverted to help another Army platoon look for insurgents burying bombs on nearby roads.

The Humvees made several turns and took a new route.

Embedded in the tightly packed ground on the road was a homemade bomb connected to a washing machine timer with a cellular phone trigger.

Going about 35 mph, the first Humvee passed over the bomb. Seidel's Humvee moved over it and it exploded.

"As soon as it went off, I was knocked back and dazed," wrote one soldier who was several feet away from the boom and shower of Humvee parts.

Another soldier wrote, "There was a large cloud of dust and a shockwave that sounded like cracking wood.

"I saw the back end of the vehicle lift into the air and the driver's side door fly in the air."

Other soldiers felt the ground shudder and saw the flames and heavy black smoke. Medics rushed to check on Seidel and the others in the convoy, but they were all dead.

"The vehicle was totally destroyed," said one witness who called the blow-up one of the worst he'd ever seen.

Despite the vehicle's fractured frame, investigators said the passenger compartment where Seidel and the others sat was still intact.

"The descriptions of what the soldiers saw in some of the statements were graphic and horrid, and could not be described," an investigator wrote.
 
The aftermath

Within 48 hours after his death, formally dressed U.S. Army soldiers would visit Seidel's parents with the news of his death.

Although they knew his work in the war zone was dangerous, like other families, Seidel's family thought he would come home.

"I think we all had the same sense of shock of disbelief. You kind of can't wrap your mind around it," Colleen Seidel said.

As a child, Colleen Seidel said, she always looked up to her cousin and that she felt numb after his death. Seidel's family huddled together in their grief many times while waiting for his body to come home, trying to find comfort in their memories of the proud, but humble, man they'd lost.

Instead of being able to give Seidel a hero's welcome home, they gave him a hero's funeral on Memorial Day 2006, a day of remembrance for those who died while serving this country.

"From what I understand, more than 1,300 people attended his funeral," Bob Seidel said. People crowded the streets of his Maryland hometown, waving flags and saluting the flag-draped casket as it moved through Emmitsburg's main street.

The night before his funeral, another aunt, Theresa Wyatt, wrote a poem called, "Dear Robbie," about Seidel's life and read it during a prayer service the night before the funeral.

"Please come stand with your family. We need your smile today," it reads. "Please share a little bit of laughter before you go away."

Family members said they were honored by how people recognized Seidel's sacrifice. Even the funeral's uninvited guests -- protesters from the Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church -- didn't diminish the ceremony, they said.

Denice Minderman's son, 1st Lt. Christopher Buscagilia, was one of Seidel's closest friends. Stationed with Seidel in Iraq, Buscagilia was in the convoy the day his friend died, said Minderman, of Lockpot, N.Y.

"It sticks with him," Minderman said of Seidel's death. "He told me he thinks about (Seidel) all the time."

Her son is on his second tour in Iraq and will be there until August. Working with an Iraqi army that sometimes comes under heavy fire, Minderman worries about Buscagilia.

"It was sobering for me, talking to (Seidel's) mother," she said. "There was this moment of pause when you think, this could've been my child. It could've been any one of them."

Minderman said she admired Seidel's parents for their strength and thanked them for a man whose friendship made a strong impact on her son.

At their Adams County home, Bob and Sandy Seidel remember their son with a memory garden, a painted portrait of Seidel and pictures of him in every room in the house. Stephen Seidel ribs his parents about how their home has become a shrine to their lost soldier, and Bob Seidel said he can see his point.

He defended himself, saying, "He has a banner from Robbie's unit in his room, too."

The family's loss seems so fresh on some days, but they said remembering what it was like to have Seidel in their lives comforts them.

"As hard as it is for us to be without Robbie, we are so proud of him," Colleen Seidel said. "Words are completely inadequate to describe how we feel.

"I never got to tell him. I never got to say how proud I was of him for what he was doing."

771-2028; mcanty@ydr.com.

ABOUT ROBERT A. SEIDEL III

Branch: U.S. Army
Position: A rifle platoon leader
Unit: The 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division, based at Fort Drum, N.Y.
Family lives in: Mount Joy Township, Adams County
Hometown: Emmittsburg, Md.
Born: Oct. 27, 1982
Died: May 18, 2006, while on patrol in northern Baghdad, Iraq. He, three soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed after an improvised explosive device detonated under their Humvee.
Family: parents, Bob and Sandy Seidel, brother, Stephen Seidel

EULOGY NOTES

West Point has a memorial site with eulogies written for Robert A. Seidel III. Some the eulogies are as follows:

"Robbie (told) me that he had several close calls with direct fire and indirect fire but most of all that he loved every minute of what he was doing. He believed that everything we are doing in Iraq right now is making a huge difference for the Iraqi people."

-- U.S. Army Major Jeff Logan

"Rob was such a joy to have in law classes. He was always making a joke or some kind of hilariously sarcastic remark. Truly a great guy and I am honored to have known him. Be thou at peace."

-- Alice Garcia

"Rob was always there to make us laugh after a rough day -- he will be truly missed. My deepest sympathy to the Seidel family and to all that knew Rob."

-- Crystan Allan

"I will never forget the humor Rob found in everything and the way he would encourage others around him."

-- Casey Knight

"I am a better man for the time I spent with him. He taught me many things about being a team player, taking everything with a grain of salt, and the beauty of unexpected humor, as well as other lessons that I am only now starting to understand."

-- Rob Lodewick

"He was confident, competent, humble and always had a wry smile ready to flash to brighten any moment. I had the utmost confidence in his ability -- he was an outstanding Infantry Platoon Leader and I am proud to be able to say that I served with him."

-- U.S. Army Lt. Col. Kevin Brown

"Robert, As I have said too many times previous, 'Well done, be thou at peace.' You have made the Long Gray Line proud brother, I wish you well on the other side. The world will miss you.

"rear guard, standing strong."

--Christopher C. Turner

"rob was pretty much one of the few 'greatest all-americans' i've ever met. after having him as such a close friend during my squad leader time at west point, it was easy to see why i'd choose the infantry right alongside a person like him. he is truly one of the best people i've ever known in my life; and although his own was cut too short, i'm glad i can keep him in mind for a good long while."

--Andy DeSantiago

 
Source: Eulogy notes from West Point Web site

 

To see more eulogies, visit www.west-point.org/users/usma2004/61098

THIS STORY

The reporting for this story included use of documents obtained from the federal government under the Freedom of Information Act, passed by Congress in 1966.

The act requires all federal government documents to be made available upon request, with exceptions to protect national security, law enforcement and commercial and individual privacy.

WARS' FALLEN WITH LOCAL CONNECTIONS

The following map shows the ties to the area of military personnel who have died in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Click on any of the markers to read more about the soldier who has family connections to that location.


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