Slain Marine put friends first
By MICHAEL MOORE of the Missoulian
Sometimes he would call in the middle of the night, using the minute or so soldiers in Iraq are allotted to touch base with his friends.
If his buddies didn't pick up the phone, Andrew Bedard would call them back the next day, maybe while they were in class at the University of Montana.
That's where he planned to be one day, too, after he finished his tour of duty with the U.S. Marines.
Only reluctantly would he talk about what was happening in the desert of Iraq. Instead he wanted to know about the weather, what his friends were up to, whether the Grizzlies won the weekend's football game.
"He'd only tell me a little bit about what was happening there, but it seemed to me that the conditions there scared him," said Andrew's friend Kevin O'Day. "But mostly, he was the sort of kid who wanted to know how you were doing. He'd find a way to put you first, even though we were all really concerned about him."
Andrew Bedard, a Marine who'd been in Iraq for only a month, died Monday, killed by a roadside bomb. Bedard, who trained in San Diego, was a Humvee driver in a unit taking part in the military's new offensive to roust insurgents out of western Iraq.
He was 19.
A Hellgate High School graduate in 2004, Andrew was the sort of young man who seemed to touch everyone he met. He had a kindness that his friends found endlessly comforting.
"You could call him anytime and if you needed something, he'd come right over, even if it was really late," his friend Callan Smith said Wednesday. "He was just so dependable."
Andrew had a wide circle of friends, many of whom gathered at the home of his mother, Michelle, on Tuesday night. She told them what she knew of Andrew's death, and together they laughed and cried and told stories about a young man they all loved.
"I came away feeling better, but it's really been back to sadness today," O'Day said. "It's just too hard to believe he's not coming back."
It was actually pretty hard to believe he was leaving.
By the end of his senior year at Hellgate, Andrew had woven a tight community of friends, a community rocked by surprise when he told them he was entering the Marines.
"You know, it was such a complete shock," Smith said. "He was such a laid-back kid. He wasn't this gung-ho guy who wanted to go to war."
With his friends, Andrew talked about getting out of Missoula for a while, earning some money to go to college and seeing something of the world.
Smith pressed his buddy on the possibility of being sent to Iraq, but Andrew would push the discussion aside with a reference to his likelihood of being stationed in Hawaii.
Once he'd completed basic training in San Diego, Andrew committed himself to the soldier's lot.
"He said he felt an obligation to the guys he trained with, that he'd go if they went," Smith said.
At the end of August, he did go. His friends all gathered that last night, and they did their best to say what they hoped would be a temporary farewell.
"He kept asking us if we'd be here in four years, because he was planning on coming back here to go to school," said friend Ben Brunsvold. "He really loved this town, and the idea of being away from his friends for so long was hard on him."
The separation was hard on the whole group of friends. Smith, Brunsvold, O'Day and others, like Brian Gaul, found themselves worried when they saw news out of Iraq. As comforting as it was to get Andrew's phone calls, they also served as a reminder of the constant peril he faced.
"He'd talk about how we shouldn't take it for granted, the good life we had here," O'Day said. "Over there, things were pretty much destroyed, everybody was poor and it was pretty scary."
Said Smith: "I was really worried, you know, because he'd gone into the Marines. Those guys are the ones in the thick of it. They go to the worst places. I'd hear him explaining why he wanted to be in the Marines, but I never could really understand it."
Now there are no more explanations to be found. The phone doesn't ring any more in the middle of the night.
A friend is gone, and a group of boys who became young men together struggle to weave together the harsh reality of war and the comforting memories of the past.
"He was just the best guy you'll ever know," Brunsvold said. "By the time he graduated from high school, he had more friends than most people will have in a lifetime."
"He was always calling and asking if he was doing the right thing, wanting to make sure he was being polite," O'Day said. "He just was the sort of person who was always gathering his friends around him, soaking in those good times when we were all together. It's really hard to imagine how we'll do that without him now."