In Marine's Death, Clues to a Son's Life

By Dan Morse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Gilda Carbonaro pulled her car to a stop inside Arlington National Cemetery, stepping out to visit the freshly dug grave of her only child, Alex.

With her was a broad-shouldered Marine, limping from a leg shattered in battle, who towered a foot over Gilda. The Marine hadn't known Alex well but held precious clues about the person he had become.

Gilda had many questions. She and her husband had raised Alex in a world different from the military's -- the protected streets of Bethesda. Alex graduated from a Quaker high school, then stunned them by enlisting in the Marine Corps.

Gilda trusted he would serve out his initial five-year commitment, come home and go to college. Instead, he reenlisted, earning a spot in one of the Marines' elite reconnaissance units, called Recon, which operate deep inside enemy territory. That took Alex on two tours in Iraq, a war Gilda had spent two years trying to end.

On May 1, a roadside bomb tore through Alex's Humvee, setting him and two of his men on fire. He died 10 days later in a military hospital in Germany in the arms of his mom, his dad, his wife of not quite 12 months and his mother-in-law.

Alex remains the only service member listed from Bethesda killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. He was 28.

His grave in sight, Gilda -- a 56-year-old school teacher -- wrestled with unyielding grief, and with a mother's need to understand her son. The Marine walking with Gilda was a sergeant, like Alex. They placed flowers on Alex's grave, doing the same at the nearby grave of one of Alex's men. They walked to a big tree and sat down.

"Have you read the Recon Creed?" the Marine asked. "We live by that."

The Corps Over College

Alex was a tough read, even as a kid. Private and headstrong, he tended to reveal big decisions only after he had made them.

The world around him couldn't have been more focused on college. In 2000, according to U.S. Census data, Bethesda held more degrees per capita than any place in the country with more than 50,000 people.

Gilda held a master's in linguistics from Georgetown University. She taught Spanish at two of the area's top prep schools, first Holton-Arms, then St. Albans. Alex's father, Fulvio, a native of Italy with a master's in computer science, consulted at financial institutions in developing nations around the world.

The couple tried not to smother their only child. When he was 12, Gilda walked him through their neighborhood, helping line up friends who needed lawns mowed. Alex spent $300 of his earnings on a watch for his dad.

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