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My Hero, My Son

  • Sgt. A. J. Baddick
    Sgt. A. J. Baddick
Published April 09. 2010 05:00PM

Many things in life can't be measured.

For instance, which combination of ingredients goes into making a hero?

Some believe it takes a special blend of environment, upbringing and character.

Joseph Baddick, 58, is a humble man and doesn't claim to have all of the answers. But he's given the subject much thought and he does know a thing or two about heroes.

Seven years ago, the Tamaqua native lost his only son, Sgt. Andrew J. 'A. J.' Baddick, in an act of heroism in Iraq.

A. J. drowned while taking heroic measures to save a life.

It happened one dark night when A. J. an outstanding swimmer dove into black waters of a swift-moving canal near Abu Ghraib Prison to rescue a soldier trapped in a submerged Humvee.

At the time, he was one of several soldiers traveling in a four-vehicle convoy that was responding to a mortar attack near the prison on the west side of Baghdad around 10:45 p.m.

The conditions were severe enough to compromise even the best efforts of A. J., who was a member of the much-heralded U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment. Infantry members are well-trained and well-equipped. A. J.'s father knows this because he, himself, served in the same unit following graduation from Marian High School in 1970.

Young A. J. wanted to follow in his Dad's footsteps and was committed to joining the 504. With perseverance, he succeeded. In 2002, he worked with computers tracking troops from Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. After six months, he deployed to Iraq and had been there only about a month when the tragic circumstances of October 1, 2003, took place.

A. J., 26. died a hero by all accounts. He was posthumously awarded a Bronze Star for heroism and a Soldier's Medal for saving a comrade's life. Added to that were an Army Commendation medal for Meritorious Service and an Army Achievement Medal he had won earlier. The honors continue to bring a special sense of pride to Baddick, of Mohrsville, and A. J.'s mother, Ann Baddick Adams of Jim Thorpe.

But Baddick acknowledges a profound sense of grief. Losing an only son can bring heartbreak beyond words. Parents aren't supposed to bury their children.

One way Baddick has been able to deal with the loss is to remember precious moments spent with A. J. He reserved a room in his house where he stores some of A. J.'s belongings and memorabilia. Baddick retreats to that room to pay homage, to commune with thoughts and feelings shared only between a father and a son.

But Baddick also found another way to help cope with the loss he authored a book, 'My Son, My Hero,' just released by CreateSpace, a division of Amazon Books.

The 17-month project came about after encouragement by Baddick's friend, Sharon Wells Wagner of Reading.

The two met by chance while attending the annual World War II Weekend held at Reading Airport. Wagner is a published author specializing in veterans' stories.

After learning about A. J., she urged Baddick to commit to the book project and then served as editor. The volume, featuring some 300 pages and 80 photos, was laid out and cover-designed by Wagner's son Steve, of Aperture Design, Reading.

Nobody was more surprised at the success of the project than Baddick, who never thought of himself as an author. At first, he was hesitant to start the project.

"But as I started typing, things just came to me ... all life's experiences and my son's."

Baddick says there was no need for embellishment, as nothing is better than the simple truth.

"Nothing is made up. I have no doubt in my head that A. J. helped me with this."

Baddick's book includes touching passages such as heartfelt letters A. J. wrote to his Dad while in basic training and other messages composed by A. J. during his first assignment at Ft. Hood, Texas.

The book's first chapter is called 'The coal region' because Baddick feels the local area played a big role in the development of A. J.'s character. A. J. grew up in Jim Thorpe.

"I want people who aren't from here to get a feel for the environment that A. J. grew up in," he says. "I can't imagine growing up in any other place. I can only imagine that it positively influenced the type of man my son came to be."

For Baddick, the book helped him get in touch with his emotions, especially after enduring three straight years of loss. Baddick lost his father in 2002, then A. J. in 2003, and then his mother, Rose, in 2004. It was a life-changing series of events.

He cherishes his daughter, Elizabeth, son-in-law Terry Hoherchak, a Lehighton native, and their children, Andi Rose, 5, and infant Tyler Joseph. And he's deeply devoted to his wife Sheila.

Actually, Baddick dedicated the book to Sheila, "without whose love and understanding I might not have made it through my darkest hours."

Baddick is retired from a 20-year career as zone lieutenant at SCI Mahanoy, Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

He spends his free time assisting TAPS, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. The organization helps other parents who've lost children. Baddick serves as a peer mentor. He also works with Berks Enduring Freedom, a group that sends care packages of food and hygiene items to American military serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He also volunteers with the Armed Forces Advisory Committee in the Reading area, which yearly sponsors the oldest ongoing Armed Forces parade in the country.

Baddick's adheres to the mantra "seek always to do some good somewhere ... even if it's a little thing, do something for those who need help, something for which you get no pay but the privilege of doing it."

Most importantly, in everything he does, Baddick tries to honor the memory of his son. Writing the book, he says, did just that and brought special benefits.

"It was very therapeutic for me," he admits.

Sometimes being a hero is learning how to carry on. Sometimes it's heroic simply to take steps forward when the heart is heavy and the spirit broken.

Call it faith. Call it a gut check. Call it what you will, but tragedy and greatness often go hand-in-hand.

"There were times I had to stop writing," he says, "because you can't type with tears in your eyes."

In so many ways, the true measure of a man is in how he deals with loss, and how he looks within himself and finds a way to go on.

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