Army National Guard Spc. Patrick McCaffrey’s body arrived at Sacramento International Airport shortly before midnight Sunday encased in a flag-draped coffin.
His wife, Silvia, was too heartbroken to say much. His father, Bob, was also silent. His mother was the only family member who could stay her tears.
“I feel empty, hurt, numb,” said Nadia McCaffrey, 59. “I am not angry, I am not revengeful. I’m just hurt that my son’s life is gone, and they should stop what they’re doing.”
Patrick McCaffrey, 34, signed up with the National Guard the day after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks because he wanted to help his country recover, his mother said. He never thought he’d be sent to Iraq, where he arrived this spring and died in a barrage of gunfire June 22.
McCaffrey served with the Santa Rosa-based 579th Engineer Battalion but had been converted recently to the infantry.
He was 60 miles northeast of Baghdad on patrol when he and National Guard Lt. Andre Tyson of Riverside were ambushed and killed.
His mother’s decision to invite the media to cover the arrival of her son’s casket was a challenge to the Pentagon, which prohibits the photographing of coffins when they are removed from military planes or when they arrive at military bases.
Critics have accused the Bush administration of banning the photographs in an attempt to limit opposition to the war.
Patrick McCaffrey’s casket was delivered on a commercial jet and arrived at a civilian airport, a National Guard spokesman said, so the media coverage was not against Pentagon policy.
Nadia McCaffrey, who has been staying with her son’s family in their Tracy, Calif., home, said Patrick became disillusioned with the war soon after arriving in Iraq.
“He called me one evening. His voice was very heavy,” she said. “He said, ‘I don’t understand why we are here.’ In small towns, small villages, people would scream things at them, throw things at them. There was resentment.”
But he decided to make the most of his tour in Iraq by helping the children.
“His last letter to us was to send a box of basketballs and gifts for the children,” Nadia McCaffrey said.
Patrick McCaffrey is survived by his divorced parents; a wife; and two children, ages 9 and 2.
Nadia McCaffrey said the 2-year-old daughter knows something is wrong but will have to gradually learn of her father’s death.
Except for the 9-year-old son, all were at the airport, along with a family friend.
“He will have problems,” Nadia McCaffrey said of her grandson. “He is in denial.... He said, ‘When is Dad coming home?’ It just broke my heart.”
Six members of the National Guard carried the casket from the cargo hangar to a hearse.
Led by a motorcade from the Tracy Police Department, the hearse made its way to Fry Memorial Chapel in Tracy in preparation for Thursday’s funeral.
McCaffrey will be buried in Oceanside, his wife’s hometown.