It was meant as a sign of respect, but now conservatives are saying Sen. Barack Obama’s invocation of his "hero bracelet" bearing the name of a fallen soldier is being done against the family’s wishes, based on comments made months ago by the soldier’s father.
Based on comments the mother of the family gave to the Associated Press today, however, the notion that Obama is wearing the hero bracelet against the wishes of the family — or more specifically, the mother, who gave him the bracelet — is more complicated that it first seemed. She did ask Obama to stop mentioning her son on the stump, but she approved of the way Obama invoked her son in the debate.
"I had a town hall meeting in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, and a woman stood up and she said, ‘Senator McCain, I want you to do me the honor of wearing a bracelet with my son’s name on it.’" McCain recalled. "He was 22 years old and he was killed in combat outside of Baghdad, Matthew Stanley, before Christmas last year. This was last August, a year ago. And I said, ‘I will — I will wear his bracelet with honor.’…And then she said, ‘But, Senator McCain, I want you to do everything — promise me one thing, that you’ll do everything in your power to make sure that my son’s death was not in vain.’ That means that that mission succeeds, just like those young people who re-enlisted in Baghdad, just like the mother I met at the airport the other day whose son was killed. And they all say to me that we don’t want defeat."
Stammering a bit as he appeared to be seeking the name on the bracelet on his wrist, Sen. Obama responded saying, "I’ve got a bracelet, too, from Sergeant, uh, from the mother of Sergeant Ryan David Jopek, given to me in Green Bay. She asked me, ‘Can you please make sure another mother is not going through what I’m going through?’ 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. The question is for the next president: ‘Are we making good judgments about how to keep America safe? Precisely because sending our military into battle is such an enormous step."
In February, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on the moment when Tracy Jopek gave Obama the bracelet, and Obama’s mentioning of Jopek after he won the Wisconsin primary.
"We’re here because of the mother I met in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who gave me this bracelet that I’m wearing," Obama said then. "Inscribed on it is the name of her son Ryan. Next to his name it says…’All gave some but he gave all.’ We are here because it is time to ask ourselves as a nation if we are serving Ryan and his compatriots and all our young brave men and women as well as they are serving us. They need us to end this war and bring them home and give them the care and the benefits that they deserve."
Ryan Jopek was 20, a member of the Wisconsin National Guard like his father. He deployed to Iraq in 2005, was killed there in 2006.
In February 2008, Ryan’s mother Tracy and his sister Jessica traveled to Green Bay and waited in the cold for 45 minutes to give Obama her son’s bracelet. A campaign staffer arranged it so they could meet him.
"I didn’t get to say what I wanted to say. I just cried," Tracy Jopek told the newspaper. "It wasn’t for anything but for him to know this is real, something he needed to know. . . I do believe (the war) needs to end, but I believe it needs to be done very carefully and very thoughtfully."
She said she was honored by Obama mentioning her son in his speech.
"I couldn’t believe it. It was such an honor, such an honor," she said. "To know that he does know his name. It means a lot."
But a month later, Ryan’s father Brian — who is no longer married to Tracy — told Wisconsin Public Radio that his ex-wife had misgivings about Obama wearing the bracelet and mentioning their son on the campaign trail. It seems as though just as Tracy Jopek supports Obama and wants to end the war, Brian Jopek has a different take on what should happen in Iraq and may be more inclined to support McCain.
(You can listen to Brian Jopek about 10 minutes into THIS CLIP.)
After pointing out that he and Tracy are not married anymore, Brian says that "from what I understood from email exchanges with Tracy….she wanted to put a name, she wanted Sen. Obama to know Ryan’s name…She wasn’t looking to turn it into a big media event…She just wanted it to be something between Barack Obama and herself."
Brian Jopek went on to say that "because of some of the negative feedback she’s gotten on the Internet, you know Internet blogs, you know people accusing her of… or accusing Obama of trying to get votes doing it… and that sort of thing, she has turned down any subsequent interviews with the media because she just didn’t, she just didn’t want it to get turned into something that it wasn’t. She had told me that in an email that she had asked, actually asked Mr. Obama to not wear the bracelet anymore at any of his public appearances."
In an interview with the Associated Press today, Brian’s ex-wife confirmed today that she had asked the Obama campaign to ask the candidate to stop mentioning her son on the stump.
But — and here’s where it gets complicated — according to the AP story, Tracy Jopek also said she was "ecstatic" that Obama mentioned her son’s hero bracelet during Friday’s debate. That’s because he was responding to McCain citing a different griveing mother’s hero bracelet as a way to back his political views of the war in Iraq and citing the bracelet she’d given Obama was a good and appropriate way to remind people there are different views on this issue.
"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.”
* This post was updated with the AP report on Tracy Jopek.