Army Spec. Cindy Beaudoin didn't have to go to war.
The UConn freshman had scoliosis, a spinal condition that could have exempted her on Nov. 17, 1990, the day the 142nd Medical Company was called up to active duty.
Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi dictator, had invaded Kuwait and refused international demands to withdraw. The showdown hit home on a Saturday at the Goffe Street Armory in New Haven, where Beaudoin's Connecticut National Guard unit was based.
Some soldiers sobbed when their commander announced the order; one reportedly fainted.
Beaudoin, 19, the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, went to talk to her superiors. They let the young medic decide whether chronic back problems would prevent her from serving.
"Of course I'm going, silly," she told a close friend after the meeting. "I couldn't let my best buddy go off alone."
The Plainfield native withdrew from her UConn classes and trained in Fort Devens in Massachusetts before shipping out to the Middle East in January 1991. There is a photo of Beaudoin in Army fatigues, with a slight smile and homemade sign that read, "142 Med Co: It Takes The Best To Save The Rest!"
"She just became the life of the platoon," said Bob Jacovino of Wethersfield, who was a sergeant and platoon leader for the 142nd during Operation Desert Storm.
It was a quick war that would haunt her comrades and unfurl grief on the Beaudoin family.
On Feb. 28, 1991, Jacovino was with Beaudoin when explosions rocked their convoy on the way to Kuwait, just hours after President George H. W. Bush had declared a cease-fire.
After Cindy died — "It completely takes away your will to live," her mother, Phyllis, said in 1992 — her parents fought an unexpected battle against the military, which classified her death as a "non-battle" casualty nine months after initially concluding that an enemy land mine killed her.
The Army insisted for more than a year that the culprit was one of the U.S. "bomblets" that littered the desert and had become war souvenirs for some troops, who believed the white-ribboned, olive drab cylinders were harmless. Five days after Beaudoin's death, a bomblet kept by a member of the 142nd exploded inside a tent in Saudi Arabia, maiming him and wounding others and igniting a military investigation.
The Beaudoins held vigil at Cindy's grave in Plainfield and told anyone who would listen, including Connecticut politicians, that the military was dishonoring their daughter's memory.
In July 1993, the Army reclassified her death as killed in action, citing, in part, the lack of an autopsy.
Jacovino took on a big-brother role when he met Cindy Marie Beaudoin in Fort Devens. She was upbeat and charismatic, with "a sense of history and a sense of patriotism," said Jacovino, 55, now a career counselor in Hartford for the state labor department.
She spoke proudly of her father, Paul Beaudoin, who served in the infantry in Vietnam, and seemed to relish the mundane tasks of living in a war zone, despite her back pain, the sandstorms and occasional rain, Jacovino recalled this month. "Everything would be wet and cold ... She just made a home of it."
Troops got word of the cease-fire through BBC radio. Euphoria would soon turn to chaos in the desert.
An initial explosion in the convoy killed Maj. Mark Connelly, a doctor from Lancaster, Pa. He was 34. Beaudoin and others went into defensive positions; they believed they were under enemy attack.
"In the confusion of war, I don't think we'll know exactly what happened," Jacovino said, "or the combination of what happened."
A second explosion tore into Beaudoin. Gravely wounded, she was injected with morphine and treated by Jacovino and another soldier as they waited about three hours for an emergency helicopter evacuation. They tried to keep her awake.
"We had all kinds of long conversations about life, about how we're going to party when this is all done, and look back at it all," Jacovino remembered. But, he said, "I knew."
The UConn Alumni Association lists about 135 former UConn students who died during military service. Beaudoin is the lone entry under the Gulf War. A permanent memorial in her honor is on the Storrs campus, near the student union.
Days before she died, as her platoon prepared to join the ground invasion, Beaudoin handed a letter to Jacovino to give to her parents, just in case. "I got a bad feeling about this," she told him.
"She was hesitant then and I was saying, 'Get your stuff' ... And I ordered her on the truck," said Jacovino, who retired as a staff sergeant. More than 23 years later, the memories of war are still fresh, and the sleepless nights continue.
"It's like it happened yesterday, where you can see people talking to you," he said.
Jacovino kept the letter in a Ziploc bag and hand-delivered it to Paul and Phyllis Beaudoin around Memorial Day 1991.
"I did not come here to be a hero," Cindy Beaudoin wrote. "I came here because my country needed me to be here. As much as I hate being so far away from home, I am proud to serve my country. I am here with thousands of other soldiers helping to bring down a very deranged tyrant ... If I should die while helping to achieve this, then I did not die in vain ...
"When you start to miss me look inside your heart and you will find me."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun