EAU CLAIRE, Wis. Barack Obama is wearing a wristband in memory of a soldier killed in Iraq, given to him by a mother who said she wants the Democratic presidential candidate to keep others from dying.
Tracy Jopek of Merrill, Wis., gave Obama the bracelet at a rally Friday night in Green Bay, and Obama was still wearing it Saturday as he campaigned across the state before Tuesday's primary.
The bracelet has her son's name, Sgt. Ryan David Jopek, and the date the 20-year-old was killed in Iraq by a roadside bomb, Aug. 2, 2006. "All gave some He gave all," it says.
"She gave me this wristband, which I'm very grateful for," Obama told the Green Bay audience, halting and lowering his voice from his normally upbeat presentation. "I meet mothers and family members all over the country who are still mourning their children but are also thinking about the young men and women who are still over there and wondering when it will end."
Obama has not made a point of showing it to reporters or others on the campaign trail. A campaign staffer described it as black metal band with silver lettering.
Mrs. Jopek said she and her daughter briefly met the Illinois senator at the rally and showed him a picture of a smiling Ryan dressed for battle. She said the senator hugged her and her daughter, asked a couple questions about Ryan and told her how much he appreciated the bracelet.
"I wanted him to know my son's name for one thing, for when he's commander in chief," Mrs. Jopek said during a telephone interview in which she frequently grew emotional. She said she was somewhat uncomfortable getting so publicly involved in the war debate but felt the issue was too important for her to remain silent during this campaign.
She said she's a Democrat who will vote for Obama in Wisconsin's primary Tuesday. Like Obama, she said she was against the war from the start and had a hard time watching her son go to war.
"My son loved this country very much. I love this country, but I don't feel that staying in Iraq will vindicate my son's death," she said. "And it's not over for us until this war is over. I just don't want any more soldiers to die in vain for something that we can't solve."
Mrs. Jopek said she's a "political junkie" who was once watching a press conference on television and noticed likely GOP nominee John McCain wearing a similar bracelet. McCain's was given to him in August by the mother of Cpl. Matthew Stanley, also killed in Iraq, and the Arizona senator's been wearing it regularly ever since. He takes a different message from the memento.
"It means any political ambitions of mine pale in comparison to the sacrifice that nearly 4,000 family members have made," McCain said of the bracelet in an interview with The Associated Press last fall. He said although political pundits said his determination not to end the fight in Iraq will kill his political career, "when you meet the mother of Matthew Stanley, then what difference does that make?"