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Chuck Hagel: A Christmas Present, and Past
[FINAL Edition]
The Washington Post - Washington, D.C.
Subjects: World War II; History; Nostalgia; Families & family life
Author: Blumenfeld, Laura
Date: Dec 22, 2005
Start Page: A.27
Section: A SECTION

[Chuck Hagel] also discovered his father's feelings about war. "My father was about the same age in the war as I had been," Hagel said, touching his temples. In Vietnam, Chuck, 21, and brother [Tom], 19, had fought and nearly died together as infantry squad leaders. In 1968, their armored personnel carrier hit a 500-pound mine. It blew out Chuck's eardrums, set him on fire -- "the whole left side of my face bubbled." Chuck pulled Tom, unconscious, from the burning gunner turret. Chuck saved his brother's life just months after Tom had saved his, when shrapnel ripped Chuck's chest.

On Christmas morning, Chuck's mother came home from early Mass and put the turkey in the oven. She wondered why her husband was still sleeping; they would be late for second Mass. "Mom went in to wake him up," Hagel said, swallowing. "And he was dead." Hagel swallowed. "She called, 'Chuck! Come in here, right away.' "

His father had died of an aneurysm. Chuck took his mother across the street to the Murphys and tried to comfort his brothers. Aunts, grandmothers and uncles arrived for Christmas dinner only to learn of a funeral. Chuck's mother took him aside and said, "I'm going to need your help." Hagel said: "It was a pretty rough day. . . . The boxes stayed under the tree, no one had any interest."

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