"Thank God they opened their hearts to see me," Carlos Arredondo said after a private meeting with the Marines on Saturday at a Marine base in Hialeah, a Miami suburb.
Arredondo was celebrating his 44th birthday at his home in Hollywood on Aug. 25 and had his phone in his pocket, expecting a call from his son, Marine Lance Cpl. Alexander Arredondo.
But then three Marines, members of a military Casualty Assistance Calls team, arrived and told him his 20-year-old son had been killed in combat in Najaf, Iraq, during his second tour of duty in Iraq.
"I couldn't believe they were saying that to me when I was waiting for my son to call," said Arredondo.
"I got very upset. I felt like it was a bad joke or bad dream," he said. "I was crying. ... I was calling for Alex."
Arredondo grabbed a propane torch and a gasoline can from his garage, yelled at the Marines to leave, smashed a window of their van with a hammer, poured gasoline in the vehicle and climbed inside.
As his mother tried to pull him out, he said, he accidentally turned on the torch.
The Marines put out the flames on his body. Jackson Memorial Hospital has given him an extended payment plan to pay his $43,000 bill for burns that covered 26 percent of his body.
On Saturday, Arredondo and his wife, Melida, met with Marine Maj. Scott Mack and the three Marines who went to his house. They discussed two scholarships in his son's name — one created by the Marines and the other by Blue Hills Regional Technical School in Canton, Massachusetts, where the younger Arredondo graduated. As a personal penance, Arredondo has visited veterans in Boston hospitals.
After the hourlong meeting, everyone stepped outside, and Arredondo saluted and embraced the Marines.
"Whatever happened out there wasn't about them," he said afterward. "I wanted them to understand I am very, very sorry."
After the fire, Mack had said the Marines would not press charges "out of compassion and sensitivity" to Arredondo. The three Marines were not injured.