Bridge to bear hero's name
Sgt. 'A.J.' Baddick
Andrew Joseph "A.J." Baddick was a good kid growing up in Jim Thorpe, an affable young man who offered up his free time and energy to volunteer with fire and ambulance crews.
And on Sept. 29, 2003, Baddick, then 26 and a sergeant in the U.S. Army, offered up his own life as he dove into a murky canal near Abu Ghraib prison, Iraq, to rescue a soldier whose Humvee had plunged into the water during a mortar attack.
When it became clear the man had died, Baddick, an avid swimmer, again dove into the water, this time to recover the fallen soldier's body.
Baddick never made it to the surface.
The town mourned Baddick at a funeral service on Oct. 10, 2003.
Now he will be memorialized when a new bridge connecting the east and west sides of Jim Thorpe is named in his honor.
The $28 million bridge is being built to replace the 61-year-old Route 903 span over the Lehigh River.
The Sgt. Andrew J. Baddick Memorial Bridge is expected to be finished in the summer of 2017.
Efforts to reach Baddick's mother, Ann Baddick Adams, were unsuccessful early Friday. However, she expressed her gratitude in a press release.
"He would do anything to help anyone," Adams said.
"In his unit, if someone needed something, he'd say, 'My mom will get it for you.' He was a true character."
Naming the bridge for her son is a fitting tribute, she said.
"From the time my son was around 5 years old, he was on the water," she said. "He gave his life in the water. There is no better way to honor his service to our community and nation."
Baddick grew up along the Lehigh River.
"You could throw a stone from our house to the river," Adams said. "It's where he played growing up, and he eventually served as a river guide for Jim Thorpe River Adventures. I'm thrilled and so excited to see his life, and service, honored in this way.
The span honoring Baddick will be built over the very river on which he spent countless hours.
Jim Thorpe River Adventures owner Jerry McAward said a glass display memorializing Baddick hangs on the wall of the company's office.
"He worked for us for many years," McAward said. "He was a hell of a river guide, and he had a devil-may-care attitude about life.
"He floated by me one day and yelled, 'Yo, Jer, I made it into the 82nd Airborne!' He was waving his arms over his head in victory. I'll never forget that as long as I live. It was what he wanted more than anything," McAward said.
Former River Adventures employee and longtime friend Jim Flaim had the display made of AJ's things.
The 30-by-29-inchdisplay includes a picture of Baddick in uniform in front of the American flag, patches from his 82nd Airborne Division, the life jacket with "AJ" on the back that he wore while at the company, a picture of him kayaking, and a memorial plaque.
Asked to describeBaddick in one word, McAward says, "Unafraid. He was unafraid as a river guide. When I learned of how he died, I was not surprised."
State Rep. Doyle Heffley, R-122, and state Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, on Thursday announced the honor.
Heffley was the prime sponsor of the bill to memorialize Baddick, which was approved on July 9 by Gov. Tom Corbett.
"This bridge is a promise I made to A.J.'s mother, and I'm glad to see it come to fruition," Heffley said in a press release.
"Sgt. Baddick was a hero in every sense of the word and he gave his life to protect our freedoms in the aftermath of 9/11," Yudichak said in the release.
"This new bridge will be a fitting tribute to Sgt. Baddick, and it will serve as a constant reminder of the bravery, courage and patriotism of all of our military heroes."
A 1997 graduate of Jim Thorpe Area High School, Baddick joined the Army in 1999, graduated from Jump School at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2001 and was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division.
He re-enlisted for six years in 2002, and was stationed with the Third Brigade, 504th Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
He had been in Iraq for about a month when he died.