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TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2008 „ THE WICHITA EAGLE 5A
From Page 1A
Five weeks after Alex died, Karen Funcheon picked up The Wichita Eagle and read that President Bush was coming back to Wichita, this time to dedicate the new Boys & Girls Club and speak at a fundraiser for Sen. Pat Roberts. She went into the house with sudden animation. Bob had said Bush should have called them, that he “owed’ them that. Karen agreed. She and Bob both still supported the war, and Bush because of his conservative views and faith. But Funcheon with the war going bad and opposition mounting, they wondered whether the dead had died for nothing. With the newspaper story before her, Karen called a man she thought could help her. Sgt. Charles Austin Hilt of the U.S. Army Reserves was their Casualty Assistance Officer, the soldier who had arranged for Alex’s body to come home. The Army paid for the burial. Hilt, an Iraq War veteran, was a soldier in an Army Reserve finance unit who had never served as a Casualty Assistance Officer before. It upset him to do it, but he won the Funcheons’ gratitude. Besides kindness, he’d shown resourcefulness arranging the transport, cutting red tape. He steadied their nerves. Karen told him they wanted to see Bush. “Just five to seven minutes,” she said. “And no media. Tell the president we’re not doing this to put on a show. We won’t do anything to embarrass him.” There was a little pause. “I’ll see what I can do,” Hilt said.
ABOUT THIS SERIES
Events described in these stories were drawn from interviews conducted over an 18-month period with the story subjects or from documents provided by the story subjects, or were witnessed by the reporter. In most cases where dialogue is used, the majority of the subjects interviewed agree on the words that were spoken. The exception is Sen. Pat Roberts’ conversation with President George W. Bush on Air Force One. That section was reconstructed based on the recollections of Roberts, a former journalist.
“For your family. “For the three guys who died. “For Alex. “Promise me.” Medrano promised. Eight days later, when the Funcheons mounted the steps of Air Force One, Karen carried Alex’s dog tags, and Bob carried the despair he’d seen in Medrano’s eyes.
Coming Wednesday: President Bush agrees to meet the Funcheons.
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Sgt. Gerardo Medrano was the lone survivor of the bomb that killed Jay Martin, Brian Botello and Alex Funcheon. he wondered if his Army career was over. They talked for a while; they let him go. And then, a little later, he saw another family, the Funcheons, and went through another shocking, painful conversation. Bob Funcheon teared up when Medrano introduced his wife, Rowena, Gabriel, 5, and Kallie, a year old. Medrano told the Funcheons that Alex had said, “Oh my God,” at his death; that the suffering could not have lasted long. He told Bob that he’d gone to war twice in Iraq, two tours. But he said this without pride. He felt only despair. Bob said good-bye, and began to turn away. “I regret that I made it,” Medrano blurted out. Bob turned on his heel. “What?” “I regret that I made it and Alex and the others didn’t make it.” Bob looked at him for a moment. There was kindness in his voice, but an edge, too, and Medrano said later that what Bob said would stick with him for the rest of his life. “Don’t you dare think like that. “You have a reason to live, you’ve got these two little ones to live for.” Bob teared up again. Medrano cried, too. “Promise me something,” Bob said. “Promise you will never ever feel bad for making it out of there. “You’ve got to keep going strong.
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The Eagle wants to know what you think about these stories. Reach Roy Wenzl at firstname.lastname@example.org or 316-268-6219.
Sgt. Gerardo Medrano could barely walk. This little hike with his wife and kids into Fort Carson’s chapel was the first time he’d gotten out of bed for more than a few minutes. For the short drive to the chapel, At Kansas.com/foralex: his wife had buckled his seat „ Read earlier installments in the belt for him. What he saw in series. the chapel was harder to take „ Read e-mails Alex Funcheon than the bombing. exchanged with his parents during Botello’s family was there, his overseas tour. Medrano recalled later; and Sgt. „ Watch video interviews with Martin’s family. He stood still, a Bob and Karen Funcheon. bandage covering his maimed „ View family photos and images right hand; he was wearing a from Alex Funcheon’s platoon in long-sleeved shirt in summer to Iraq. cover burns; he felt weak and „ Read journal entries written by now sick with guilt that he was Gloria Funcheon, Alex’s sister. alive. The army captain who „ Read and sign Alex Funcheon’s escorted Medrano told the famimemorial guest book. lies that Medrano was the sur„ Learn the story behind the vivor of the blast that killed series with Roy Wenzl. everyone else in the Humvee. „ Watch a YouTube clip of Alex The families sat in shock; practicing his German language some of them were angry at skills. the Army. For a moment, they sat silent; then they told Medrano that they had no idea until this moment that anyone Bob Sr., had been shot three survived. They had been told times fighting the Germans. no one survived. He’d come home to a hero’s They looked bewildered; welcome. Bob and Karen had a „ „ „ photo of teenage Alex wearing Medrano too. He didn’t know what to say. Two days later, at the chapel Bob Sr.’s World War II dress “I’m so sorry,” he said at last. uniform. at Fort Carson, Colo., after the But since then, Bob’s brother Do they resent me? he wonmemorial service for Jay Martin, Brian Botello and Alex Donald served in Vietnam and dered. They stared at him. Funcheon, Bob marveled at the came home to indifference and “Did they suffer?” one family wounded soldiers. There were sometimes hostility. Fifty-eight several at the chapel, hobbling, thousand Americans died there member asked. “No,” he said. “They did not missing limbs. They were all so for nothing, Bob thought. He was interrupted when he suffer. They went quick. There upbeat. But Bob saw they were was no pain. They went fast.” saw a soldier with a bandaged finished as soldiers. Several Alex’s body had shielded said they’d hoped to have Army hand hobbling toward him. Medrano from much of the And what that man said careers. What now? blast. But the shrapnel parashocked him. He felt his anger growing. The families of the three lyzed much of Medrano’s left Alex and everybody in that dead soldiers had been led to arm and ruined much of his Humvee had died, or so he believe that no one in the right hand. He still had shrapthought. And now Bob saw Humvee survived. nel in his body. He faced orthocrippled men, some just kids. But that was not true. pedic and skin-graft surgeries. Were these men crippled for He would lose his right-hand nothing? „ „ „ index finger. He was only 28; In World War II, Bob’s father,
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From Page 1A
Osburn said his office hasn’t refused cases since it opened more than a decade ago until they made the decision late Friday. Public defender’s offices throughout the state are assigned cases of people who can’t afford to hire their own legal representation. They handle felony charges and probation violations. Yost said he had no other option but to start sending cases to private attorneys. “We have an obligation under the law to make sure everyone has legal representation, and we need to do everything we can to provide that,” Yost said.
Yost said he’s confident that the private attorneys will be able to get paid for their services. “They will have the courts behind them,” he said. A lack of state funding has kept public defenders from receiving the raises they asked for to match what public defenders earn in other states. As a result, lawyers have been leaving for private practice and to take jobs across the street at the district attorney’s office. Osburn’s office, which has 22 attorneys, lost two lawyers who went to work for the district attorney’s office this month, and he learned last week that there wasn’t enough money to replace them. Two other attorneys are on extended medical leave. Then there’s the caseload,
which has been increasing for three years. Each public defender handles an average of nearly 200 cases each year. The office took 4,342 cases this past year, according to Pat Scalia, director of the state’s Board of Indigent Defense Services, which provides funding for the office. “We are hoping for permission to fill the vacancies with the reduced budget,” Scalia said. Osburn said a month with no new cases should help his attorneys catch up in time for the post-Christmas crunch of criminal cases. “Unfortunately,” Osburn said, “January is always a big month for us.”
Reach Ron Sylvester at 316-268-6514 or email@example.com.