A proper eulogy for a brave soldier, cousin, friend


The morning of May 19, 2006, I made an unwanted trip to the craft store A.C. Moore. It was a… The morning of May 19, 2006, I made an unwanted trip to the craft store A.C. Moore. It was a trip I hope anyone reading this will never have to make in his or her lifetime.

It was pretty early; I wasn’t even sure if the store would be open. I walked in and went to the middle where they displayed a million different kinds of ribbons. I spent my time picking the one I would use; it had to be perfect.

Eventually, I found it and walked to the counter. I said to the lady, “I need you to make me a bow out of this.” She looked at me and said, “How big do you want it?”

I paused for a moment. I wasn’t sure what to say. The last thing on my mind at that moment was the size of this damn ribbon. The fact that I was even purchasing such a ribbon overwhelmed any minute matter of the effort. I mean, there was a war going on, for crying out loud, and all that this lady could think about was the size of that stupid ribbon.

Finally, I just looked back at her and said, “How big can you make it?”

You see, that ribbon wasn’t for a craft project. I took it home and wrapped it around one of our front porch columns. That ribbon was for my cousin.

First Lt. Robert A. Seidel, III, was killed on May 18, 2006, when an improvised explosive device exploded underneath his Humvee as it was driving through the streets of Baghdad. Everyone in the truck was killed. He was only 23 years old.

As what would be his 25th birthday approaches, something has recently dawned on me that I did not immediately realize at first: I will pass the age at which my cousin lost his life. For whatever reason, this is simply something I can’t grasp.

And so, in the best way I know how, I will try to eulogize him in print so that in some small way his life will be honored for others to bear witness.

My cousin Robby had always been the coolest kid to me, long before he graduated from The U.S. Military Academy at West Point. No one was surprised when he earned a congressional appointment to the Academy, a dream he had since he was a boy. No one deserved it more.

I remember one weekend about three years ago, I went up to West Point with my aunt, uncle and his brother to visit Robby for a football game. He had parked his Jeep at an off-site training facility as cadets were required to do on game weekends, and I went back with him to pick it up. He gave me a little tour of the camp before we left, showing me the barracks, zip line, drill sites, etc.

As he explained to me what each thing was for, I just stared out of the car window with this dumbfounded look on my face. He nonchalantly said, “It’s just like summer camp, if you like that sort of thing,” and I thought to myself, “Yeah right, I could never do this stuff.”

But that’s just how he was. Even after being commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army and becoming an Airborne Ranger on his first try – ask any military man, that is not an easy thing to do – Robby was still as down to earth as ever. In fact, he disdained ostentation and cockiness.

If you saw him outside his fatigues, he would look like just another kid from Frederick County, Maryland, with hunting boots and a John Deere hat. He never took for granted what he accomplished, but he never even entertained the thought of basking in his own glory.

And he had this wit – this incredible, smart wit – that he could turn on a dime with a slightly mischievous smile and clever one-liners.

The day before his funeral, my family gathered at the funeral home to be with each other and say our last goodbyes.

I walked up to the end of the reception room and kneeled down in front of the flag-draped coffin. I touched the cloth and was taken aback by how little it did to soften the hard finality of the wood underneath. I started to cry.

I didn’t know what I was supposed to do, so I quickly began saying the Our Father prayer. Then I simply started talking to Robby as if he was there right beside me. I told him that he was my hero. I told him to watch over his mom. I told him that I would miss him.

But I didn’t tell him I was proud of him.

I know that if given the chance, Robby would not change one single detail of his life or his decisions. On his application to West Point, he wrote that, if required to lead a group of men into battle, he could not ask his men to risk sacrificing their lives if he was not first willing to do the same. He knew what he was getting into, on a level deeper than any civilian will ever understand.

So, as much as we miss him, I would not want to dishonor his life by wishing that anything were different now. Except for one. I wish I could have just a few moments back in order to tell him that I am so proud of him – not just Lt. Seidel, the soldier, but Robby Seidel, my cousin.

Because, the truth is, I will never be prouder of anything in my life.

E-mail Colleen at [email protected].