Fallen soldier’s mother says her son ‘died for absolutely nothing’

Hopewell Township relatives talk about Lt. Seth Dvorin’s death in Iraq.

By John Tredrea
   Generous, compassionate, warm, piercingly intelligent and insightful, frank and open about his feelings, and fun loving.
   That is how Army 1st Lt. Seth Dvorin, 24, who was killed in Iskandariyah, Iraq on Feb. 3, is remembered by his grieving family. But their tumultuous emotional mix is replete with stinging anger and frustration, as well as overwhelming sorrow.
   "My son died for absolutely nothing," Lt. Dvorin’s mother, Sue Niederer, declared with quiet, forceful bluntness in her Hopewell Township home on Lake Baldwin Drive Friday. Ms. Niederer blames President George W. Bush personally for her son’s death.
   "Seth died for President Bush’s personal vendetta," she said. "Bush put us where we should never have been. We’re not even in a declared war."
   Ms. Niederer says the growing national controversy over the failure to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq proves that "we have a very big problem in this country. If the intelligence on which this war was based is as inefficient as it now appears to have been, there is something is seriously wrong here."
   Ms. Niederer and other members of Lt. Dvorin’s family also are upset that he may have been trying to defuse an unexploded bomb when he was killed. He had no training in defusing bombs, they said.
   "We’re getting mixed stories from the Army, to say the least," Ms. Niederer said sardonically. "You won’t get anything from them. They’ll just tell you it’s all under investigation. One officer I spoke to told me Seth was handling the bomb, attempting to deactivate it, when it went off, killing him. It took off a piece of his skull. Another officer told me that there is no way, absolutely no way, he was touching the bomb."
   Ms. Niederer’s admiration of her son was profound. "It’s a great loss," she said. "What can I tell you? He was a great guy. Friendly. Warm. Kind-hearted. Very intelligent — that boy was smart as a whip. He was fun loving. He loved life and he enjoyed it. He liked to be with people and do things for them. He loved skiing and snowboarding, they were really big with him. And he loved his Mustang. I’ll tell you the kind of son he was to me: He was the kind to tell you he loved you, then cry after he said it."
   Lt. Dvorin was married less than six months. He and his wife, Kelly Harris Dvorin, were married at Fort Drum, his stateside base near Watertown, N.Y. Ms. Dvorin lives in Watertown.
   "Their wedding was Aug. 26, five days before he shipped out to Iraq," Ms. Niederer said. "Kelly is a widow at age 25."
   Both Ms. Niederer and her 27-year-old daughter Rebekah Dvorin used the same phrase in describing Lt. Dvorin. "He put himself before other people."
   "How he died certainly proves that," his mother said. "He died a hero — he saved his men’s lives — but he died in vain."
   She said that, as she understands what happened from the confusing, sometimes contradictory, stories she has heard from the Army, her son was in the lead truck of a convoy that had been sent out to look for undetonated bombs and to disable any it found.
   "There was a suspicious object lying in the middle of the road and they stopped the convoy," Ms. Niederer said. "Seth and the driver got out to see what it was. When Seth realized it was probably a bomb, he sent the driver back to the truck and waved everyone away. Then the bomb, which obviously was a booby trap, was remotely detonated, killing him."
   Ms. Niederer is outraged that her son was put in the position of dealing with the bomb in the first place.
   "His training was in air defense artillery," she said. "He had no training in defusing bombs. Why wasn’t an expert handling this? What’s particularly amazing to me is that this was a mission to defuse bombs and there apparently was no expert in that area in the lead vehicle. Since there wasn’t, why weren’t they rerouted around that bomb? I want answers. I’m not going to just be quiet. If I speak up, maybe someone else’s son won’t die for nothing the way my son did. If I don’t speak up, then he will really died completely in vain."
   Weeping profusely, Rebekah Dvorin said, "My brother? He was the best friend I ever could ask for. I’ll treasure his memory the rest of my life. You could talk to him about anything. He was always there for me. I believe he died in vain, to settle President Bush’s vendetta. I love and truly miss him."
   Greg Niederer, Lt. Dvorin’s stepfather, choked hard on his tears and only was able to say, "Seth was one of the best you could ask for. I watched him grow up. It’s such a shame, to see what’s happened to such a nice young man."
   "It is indeed," agreed Lt. Dvorin’s stepgrandmother, Florence Sapir. "War used to be an honorable thing. This one is as far from that as you can get. Seth died in vain. So did the more than 500 other soldiers who died over there. They died for nothing."
   Seth Dvorin was a 1998 graduate of South Brunswick High School. He received a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Rutgers University (Livingston College) in 2002 and enlisted in the Army right after graduating from college. He graduated from Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning, Ga., and received his commission on Jan. 17, 2003. He also graduated from Airborne and Air Defense Artillery Schools, and was stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y., as part of the 10th Mountain Division, Battery B, 3rd Battalion, 62nd Air Defense Artillery Regiment.
   Sue Niederer said her son talked about going into the Army right after high school, but his family told him he had to go to college first. She said her son dreamed of a career in the FBI or CIA and was persuaded by an Army recruiter that he would have a better chance of reaching that goal if he were a military veteran.
   "He also was promised that he would never go to combat," she said. "If he was in a war area, they told him, he would not be up front. My reaction to his going to Iraq was negative, to say the least. Seth’s superior officer at Watertown also was against it. He told his superiors that Seth was still too wet behind the ears for that. He begged them not to send Seth. But they told him he was needed over there, and he went."
   Ms. Niederer said that, since learning of her son’s death, she asked U.S. Congressman Rush Holt, D-N.J., how many wives, husbands and children of U.S. congressmen and senators actually are in a war zone in Iraq.
   "You know what he told me? None. Somebody tell me how fair that is," she said.
   She put her head in her hands. "He was my son," she said. "I want his helmet. Why didn’t he have a better helmet? I want his helmet."
   AT HOPEWELL VALLEY CENTRAL HIGH SCHOOL, where Sue Niederer is a substitute teacher, students and teachers sent Lt. Dvorin messages of support and care packages this year.
   "One day in early December, Ms. Niederer was covering my classes as a substitute teacher while I attended a workshop. Several of my students asked her why she looked so down and depressed," said teacher Alan Sattler on Tuesday. "Sue proceeded to tell them that her son was in Iraq and that his Army unit had been attacked twice since he had been there.
   "The students volunteered to write letters to his unit. One student in particular, Eren Akyar, brought in a large American flag that he had hanging from his ceiling. Eren asked me if the class or classes could sign it and send it over to Seth. I said ‘no problem’ and I left the flag and some markers out so the remainder of my classes could sign it if they wished.
   "It turned out that many of the students felt connected to Seth and his unit and wrote some really wonderful messages. The general sentiment from my classes was that ‘we really appreciate what you’re doing over there.’
   "When Eren and his classmates presented Sue with the flag she was really touched and gave several of the students a big hug.
   "Apparently Seth and his unit really appreciated the flag and he hung it in his tent. Sue brought in a picture of Seth and his unit wearing Santa hats in appreciation for the flag.
   "As it turns out, we were just getting ready to have the classes send another batch of letters when he was killed. Sue came to school that day and said she would give the kids another name for them to write to. The letters really boosted their morale, so we will try to write as soon as we can."
   Mr. Sattler said other teachers have sent care packages (Linda Towner and Ellen Davila). Some have sent letters with a message similar to that of the students — "We appreciate what you’re doing, be safe, and come home soon."