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A private's moment

Private First Class Junior Andino is, by his own reckoning, the kind of kid nothing much ever happens to.

He is a Marine reservist from Lynn who was injured in the spring while on duty. He fell 10 feet from a Humvee, seriously injuring his right shoulder.

At 18, Andino had enlisted last year after graduating from North Shore Technical High School. He had wanted to be a Marine, he says, since he was 5 years old.

A little more than a week ago, he found himself explaining all this to a former Navy officer, Senator John F. Kerry.

Andino and Kerry were seatmates on a flight from Washington to Boston, during which Kerry quickly struck up a conversation.

``We just talked about everything," Andino said yesterday. ``I showed him some pictures, and told him things are getting better [in Iraq]."

Not all of the conversation was so heavy, Andino said. ``I mentioned that I haven't been to a Red Sox game, ever. He called up somebody, and he asked me if I wanted to go to the Red Sox." Andino said he is a huge baseball fan who just never had the opportunity, or the money, to go to Fenway Park.

One week later -- senators have no trouble getting tickets, apparently -- Andino was joining Kerry on a trip to Fenway Park. They sat in the owners' box last Thursday and watched the Red Sox win a thriller over the New York Mets, highlighted by a great catch by Coco Crisp.

``It was really good," Andino said. ``It was a very fun time for my very first game. It really made my last two months."

Fun would hardly describe most of his experiences over the last two months. In addition to his injury, Andino has also been coping with the death of his mother six weeks ago. He is home for now, being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Andino said his shoulder injury might end his active-duty military career. He is facing surgery, followed by at least six months of physical therapy. By the time he's done with all that, he'll be deactivated. He hopes to regain full range of motion, though his prognosis is uncertain.

He will, however, be able to pursue his other reason for joining the service, which was to get a college education. He said he hopes to enroll at Salem State College, and to double-major in criminal justice and business.

I wondered what makes him think things are improving in Iraq.

``The Iraqi army is improving," he said. ``People don't understand what we're trying to do over there. But now I've been on the other side seeing what we're doing for the people, and we're doing a lot."

Andino wouldn't say what part of Iraq he served in -- ``an undisclosed location" -- or what he did there, but said that, health permitting, he'd gladly return. As it is, he was in Iraq for only a few months.

But back to Kerry. Andino's impression of him was sharply at odds from the view many people get from seeing him on television.

``I never thought I'd [talk to] someone I see on TV and look up to," he said. ``I never thought I'd be that lucky.

``He was a very nice, down-to-earth person. He was really cool. He was just like an ordinary person, very easy to talk to."

Kerry, of course, has a longstanding empathy for veterans, dating back to his own wartime experiences in Vietnam. But Andino said the senator did not volunteer any war stories.

``We didn't really touch base on that," Andino said. ``We just talked about the other thing" -- that other thing being Iraq.

Fenway Park turned out to be a perfect place for two guys, separated by two generations, to set aside the war that links them, senator and foot soldier cheering on the Sox.

``I didn't think anything like that would ever happen to me," Andino said, still incredulous. ``It meant a lot to me."

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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