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Mother denies politicizing death of her son, killed in Iraq

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Posted: Tuesday, June 29, 2004 10:00 pm

TRACY - Nadia McCaffrey, the mother of slain U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Patrick McCaffrey, denied any intent to politicize the death of her only son on a national television talk show Tuesday morning.

Some news organizations reported that she summoned the media to the Sacramento International Airport as her son's body arrived in California before dawn on Monday to protest the Pentagon's policy of barring photography of military coffins arriving at Dover Air Force Base. The military policy is not binding on a private airport.

"I didn't think twice about it. It just happened," she told talk-show host Charlie Gibson on "ABC Good Morning America" early Tuesday.

It was a week to the day after her son had been killed in an ambush in Balad, Iraq. Hours before the start of visitation for her son at a local funeral home, Nadia McCaffrey said she had not yet been to sleep.

Producers taped the early morning show in the McCaffreys' Tracy home between 2 and 4 a.m. Tuesday. Later that morning, Nadia McCaffrey filmed a similar interview with a local broadcast affiliate.

During the nationally broadcast interview, producers displayed photos of Patrick, including one of him with his hands full of wildflowers.

On the Web site for the nonprofit organization she runs, Nadia McCaffrey noted that the photo was the last one taken of her son, an hour before he was gunned down.

He held the rank of specialist but was promoted posthumously to sergeant in the Alpha Company of the National Guard's Santa Rosa-based 579th Engineering Battalion.

She said the flowers were presents from Iraqi children, whom Patrick befriended after finding most local adults dubious of American- and European-looking men.

"He concentrated on children. He asked people to send gifts, and the children gave him flowers and fruit," she said during the interview.

Nadia McCaffrey, who is 59, is the director of a local nonprofit organization called Angel Staff that is dedicated to bringing volunteer support to dying people and their loved ones.

In the week since her son's death, she has been the spokeswoman for the family, which includes Patrick's father, Robert, Patrick's 27-year-old wife, Silvia, his 9-year-old son Patrick Jr. and the couple's 2-year-old daughter Janessa.

She has said that her goal is to publicize the contribution and ideals of her son, who enlisted in the Army National Guard on Sept. 12, 2001, and served as a specialist in an engineering battalion until his company was deployed to Iraq in March.

The talk-show segment was titled "Coffin Controversy," and throughout, Gibson pressed Nadia McCaffrey with questions about why she chose to allow her son's coffin to be photographed.

After showing the picture of Patrick McCaffrey with flowers, for example, he asked her why she didn't just choose that photo, rather than photos of her son's coffin, to represent his kindness and idealism.

Again, Nadia McCaffrey replied that it "just happened," and that she had no thoughts about challenging U.S. policy or procedures.

When Gibson rephrased the question to ask Nadia McCaffrey whether she thought the press should photograph the coffins of all U.S. soldiers killed in combat, she said she felt it was a "totally individual" decision for each family to make.

She said she hadn't seen the show just before noon Tuesday. She said she felt it went well and that she had heard positive comments from friends who had seen it.

Nadia McCaffrey has expressed interest in creating an organization for mothers against warfare. She said in a brief interview before the start of visitation Tuesday that she would make an announcement after the ceremony at her son's funeral Thursday.

Patrick McCaffrey's family will receive military honors on his behalf at the 10:30 a.m. service at Fry Memorial Chapel, 550 S. Central Ave.

A public reception will follow at the Springtown Road Public Golf Course, 981 Larkspur Road, in Livermore.

McCaffrey will be interred Friday at a private service in Oceanside.

Contact reporter Karen Coleman at kcoleman@tracypress.com.

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