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Thursday, Aug 21, 2014
Steve Otto Columns

Otto: President's words came from Tampa Marine

Published:

'Staff Sgt. Eric Christian was a born leader," the president of the United States read to the assembled crowd on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery.

"A member of the Marines Corps Special Operations Command," the president continued, "Eric had served five tours of duty but kept going back because he felt responsible for his teammates and was determined to finish his mission."

It was Memorial Day, and if you were listening, you might have wondered how the president knew those things.

Speech writers get the material, assemble it and give it to the president. He can know the facts, but can he know the inner thoughts of a veteran Marine in the awful slop that is the war in Afghanistan?

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The president's writers had been given a letter by Linda Christian.

"She deserved it. I wanted her to hear about Eric from someone who knew him and who had been there," said the Marine who wrote that letter.

The president went on: "On May 4, Eric gave his life after escorting a high-ranking U.S. official to meet with Afghan leaders. Later, his family got a letter from a Marine who had served two tours with Eric."

The Marine the president was quoting is Brad Pupello, of Tampa. You might know his dad, heart surgeon Dennis Pupello.

Dr. Pupello said Christian had come to their house only weeks before going back to Afghanistan, where he was killed.

Brad met Eric in the Marine Corps, and they worked together at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

"We were on the same team that was a part of the surge in 2009. We both shared those moments that bring people closer in combat. I remember one day when an IED blew up right in front of Eric's car, and another incident when I got into it with a Taliban commander and it was Eric who helped cool me down."

Brad Pupello wrote to us last year, writing about the children of the country.

"If you attach yourself to the innocence that has been missing for generations in a war-torn country, you will attach yourself to the idea of hope and a future for these young children, many of whom speak at least three languages and are desperately trying to improve the quality of their lives by selling trinkets."

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At the same time he talked about the small army of 13- and 14-year-olds, he also remembered the day the 8-year-old suicide bomber slipped in with the other kids. The remarkable thing was the other kids recognized what was about to happen. Instead of running for their lives, they exposed themselves by warning the troops.

The president continued reading his speech: "In it (the letter from Pupello) the Marine wrote, 'There were people who measured their success based on how many enemies they killed or how many missions they led to conquer a foe. Eric based his success on how many of his friends he brought home, and he brought home many - including me.'?"

Pupello was able to attend his fellow Marine's funeral at Arlington, but he missed the president's speech. He had to work that day at MacDill Air Force Base, where he is a sociocultural analyst.

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