The Man in the Cowboy Hat

From Cognoscenti:

Maybe the flames spared Carlos Arredondo so that, nine years later, Carlos Arredondo could save Jeff Bauman.

In the competing narratives of cowardice and courage emerging from the Boston Marathon bombings, perhaps none has the redemptive power of the man in the cowboy hat.

That hat stayed in place when an adrenalin-fueled Arredondo scaled the barriers separating the bloody sidewalk from Boylston Street where the 52-year-old peace activist had been distributing American flags at the finish line of Boston’s iconic road race. He beat out flames from the blast that had ignited Bauman’s shirt. He tied a makeshift tourniquet around one of the 27-year-old’s two partially severed legs. With emergency workers, he settled Jeff into a wheelchair and sped him to the nearest ambulance. A photographer captured the frantic run.

But, were it not for the quick action of others and the skill of trauma surgeons at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on another tragic day in August 2004, Carlos Arredondo might not have been in Boston on Monday to save Jeff Bauman.

Arredondo was living in Hollywood, Florida with his second wife, Melida, when word came that sniper fire in Iraq had claimed the life of his 20-year-old son, Lance Corporal Alex Arredondo. When the Marines delivered the news, Carlos climbed into the soldiers’ van with a can of gasoline and a propane torch and set himself afire. He suffered burns on more than 25 percent of his body.

Ten days later, medical attendants wheeled him into St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Jamaica Plain in a hospital bed to attend the funeral of his oldest son. Soon after, Arredondo moved back to Boston and become active in the anti-war movement, marching in demonstrations and distributing small flags at public events. That is what he was doing on Monday when the bombs went off.