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Honoring the fallen, a baby at a time

Connie Schultz

Connie Schultz

On Aug. 3, 2005, Lance Cpl. Edward "Augie" Schroeder II was one of 14 men in the 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment who were killed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

He was 23.

Three years later, Augie's father, Paul Schroeder, received an email from a man he never had met named Jeff, who lives in California. Jeff had heard Schroeder's August 2005 interview on NPR about his son, the fallen Marine.

"Your story moved me," Jeff wrote. "My wife was pregnant at the time, and we knew we were having a boy. ... I shared your story with my wife."

Jeff and his wife decided to name their son Augustus, in honor of his wife's grandfather and Augie Schroeder.

"He is known only as 'Auggie,'" Jeff wrote to Paul. "He is a beautiful boy, and every time I think of the war and think of the loss, I think of you and your family."

It was a shock but a good one. He was the first of four babies to bear Augie's name.

"We were overwhelmed," Paul Schroeder told me in a phone call earlier this week from his home in Cleveland. "Every time that happens, gosh, it brings tears to my eyes. I'm weeping now."

Rosemary Palmer, Augie's mother, started to cry, too. "It's happy tears," she said. "It's part of a continuum of life, and it means Augie has not been forgotten."

It is also a reminder of what will never be.

"It's such an honor, of course," Paul said. "But I think about Augie and how he would have been 29 had he lived. He probably would have had his own children by now."

The father of another baby named in honor of Augie -- his middle name is Augustus -- was the Marine's childhood friend Jonathan. Another child's father, Brendan, was Augie's college classmate. His son, too, has Augustus for a middle name.

The fourth parent is Amanda Schroeder, Augie's elder sister and only sibling. Her son was born less than three months ago and is named Nicholas Augie.

"Not Augustus, just Augie," Amanda said in a phone interview from her home in New Jersey. "My brother never went by anything but Augie."

A persistent theme threaded through my discussion with Amanda: Augie Schroeder was a hero long before he died in Iraq.

"He was always kind," she said. "He believed in working hard and doing the right thing. And he never wanted to dwell on things. He wouldn't let us throw a going-away party before he went to Iraq. Instead, friends came over and everyone just said to him, 'See you later.' It was what he wanted."

When he was 12, Augie wrote a poem for Amanda's 18th birthday. When I asked whether she recalled any of it, she recited it from memory. Some things, she said, a sister never forgets.

"It'll be six years next month that he's been gone, but it's still happening to our family," she said. "We're still missing Augie."

I first talked to Paul and Rosemary the week Augie was killed, in 2005. During that interview, Paul paused in midsentence as he described his son's growing frustration with the war.

"My son is a sharp kid," he said, and then he caught himself.

"Was," he said as he started to sob. "My son was a sharp kid. Oh, Jesus."

Six years later, he slipped again as we talked about what his children had in common.

"Augie and Amanda, they're both strong," he said. He paused. "They were both strong. Not whiny."

When I suggested he and Rosemary must have been good parents, his voice began to tremble. "I'd love to do it again," he said.

Between last Friday and Monday, the U.S. Department of Defense released the names of six more Americans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan:

Cpl. Kyle R. Schneider, 23, of Phoenix, N.Y.

Sgt. Chad D. Frokjer, 27, of Maplewood, Minn.

Capt. David E. Van Camp, 29, of Wheeling, W.Va.

Capt. Matthew G. Nielson, 27, of Jefferson, Iowa

Spc. Robert G. Tenney Jr., 29, Warner Robins, Ga.

Pfc. James A. Waters, 21, of Cloverdale, Ind.

More than two years ago, Jeff in California wrote this to Paul, Rosemary and Amanda:

"I believe that every time we tell the story of how and why we named Auggie, that we help one more person understand that we cannot forget."

"And hopefully," he added, "our country will learn."

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and an essayist for Parade magazine. Email Connie Schultz at cschultz@plaind.com.