Soldier's mom defends Obama's mention of bracelet

  • Article by: DINESH RAMDE , Associated Press
  • Updated: September 28, 2008 - 7:13 PM

MILWAUKEE - After Tracy Jopek gave Sen. Barack Obama a bracelet in honor of her son who was killed in Iraq, she asked Obama not to mention the bracelet on the campaign trail.

But Jopek told The Associated Press on Sunday that she's satisfied with how Obama discussed it during last week's presidential debate.

Jopek gave Obama the bracelet at a Green Bay rally in February. It has the name of her son, Sgt. Ryan David Jopek, and the date the 20-year-old was killed by a roadside bomb, Aug. 2, 2006. "All gave some — He gave all," it says.

A few days after offering it to the Illinois Democrat, Jopek, of Merrill in north-central Wisconsin, had a change of heart. She realized it could be interpreted as a protest against the war, a statement that made her uncomfortable because other military families who suffered losses still supported the conflict.

"I am a mother, a mother who lost her son. It's hard to know what's right, what's wrong about this war. Very hard," she said. "And I know there are a lot of families who lost loved ones."

So she e-mailed the Obama campaign through its Web site asking that he not mention it during debates or speeches.

She never got a reply but said she didn't hear of him mentioning it after that — until Friday, when Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain appeared in their first debate. In response to a question about Iraq, McCain said a New Hampshire woman asked him to wear a bracelet honoring her fallen son, and asked him to make sure the Iraq mission succeeded so his death would not be in vain.

Obama responded that he too wears a bracelet, one for Sgt. Jopek, but for a different reason — to make sure all American wars are fought for good reason.

"No U.S. soldier ever dies in vain because they're carrying out the missions of their commander in chief. And we honor all the service that they've provided. Our troops have performed brilliantly," Obama said. "The question for the next president is, are we making good judgments about how to keep America safe, precisely because sending our military into battle is such an enormous step."

It was an answer that Tracy Jopek said made her proud.

"His response in the debate was exactly that, a response, after John McCain put it out there first," she said. "I think it was an appropriate response — he was just saying there's another side to the story, there's two different viewpoints."

Obama's comment sparked a number of angry comments from bloggers who suggested Obama was exploiting her son's death to score political points. Jopek said those bloggers might have heard comments that her son's father made on Wisconsin Public Radio on March 20.

In an interview with Glen Moberg, National Guard Staff Sgt. Brian Jopek said his ex-wife asked Obama not to wear the bracelet at any further public appearances. But Obama was still apparently wearing it, he said.

"So, that's his own choice. I mean that's something Barack Obama, that's a choice that he continues to wear it despite Tracy asking him not to," he told Moberg.

Tracy Jopek said she didn't hear the interview but that her ex-husband, who is currently stationed in Cuba, mischaracterized her viewpoint. An e-mail message sent to Brian Jopek through his daughter on Sunday was not immediately returned.

"I think he knew my intention, he understands it was a gesture between me and Sen. Obama," she said. "It was just little piece of peace for us. I don't understand how people can take that and turn it into some garbage on the Internet."

She wouldn't directly say whether she wanted Obama to refrain from mentioning the bracelet again, but she hopes the whole issue will just go away.

"I think these bracelets should be looked upon as an honor that both candidates wear them to respect the troops," she said. "My request to both of them is that they honor the troops by lifting the conversation to the issues, and that they continue to live up to the standards our military deserves."

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