When Capt. Robert A. Bager finished his 10-month tour of duty in Iraq and returned to Germany last year, he immediately called his parents and asked to speak to his father.
"Dad," he said proudly, "I brought all my boys home safe."
That was the leader that his parents, Patricia and Dr. William Bager of East Amherst, are remembering following the death last week of Capt. Bager in a military hospital in Texas.
Bager, 25, died last Wednesday, 3 1/2 months after he was critically injured in an apparent arcing by a high-tension wire while en route to a U.S. Army training exercise in Germany.
During his hospital stay, despite his critical injuries, Bager wanted to return to his troops in Germany. Doctors told his family they had never seen anyone survive as long as he did with those injuries.
"It was just another testimonial to him," Patricia Bager said Monday. "He fought as hard for his life as he did for his troops. He was a warrior, and he wanted to get back to his troops."
One thing that has consoled his family is that Bager was following his dream, a dream that went back to his preteen days, when he loved military toys and all things military.
He was headed to the U.S. Naval Academy before a serious car accident in his senior year of high school prevented him from attending. He graduated from Williamsville North High School in 1998 and from Brockport State College four years later.
After completing Brockport's ROTC program, he was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army and went to the Armor Officer Basic Course at Fort Knox, Ky., where he was the recipient of the Warrior Spirit Award. Bager was assigned to the 1-1 Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Division.
He served as an armor platoon leader in Iraq, from September 2003 through July 2004, being promoted to first lieutenant and awarded the Army Commendation Medal.
Following his tour of duty in Iraq, he returned to Germany, where he worked as a scout platoon leader and was promoted to captain.
When he returned home from Iraq, Bager called officials with the Brockport State ROTC program to suggest some curriculum changes based on his experience as a platoon leader. Those recommendations were instrumental in changing the military science curriculum there, the family has learned. A scholarship fund for Brockport ROTC students is being set up in Bager's memory.
Since his June 5 accident and following his death, family members have received hundreds of e-mails, calls and letters from soldiers, some of whom wrote that they had lost a mentor.
"You know your son, but you don't know his professional side," his mother said. "We're in awe of the level of achievement and respect he achieved at his young age."
Surviving, besides his parents, are a sister, Christina Warrener of Calgary, Alberta; his fiancee, Tracy Bliznik of Binghamton; and three grandparents, Joseph and Jean Bager of Blasdell and Nicia Tocco of Lockport.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Friday in St. Mary Catholic Church, 6919 Transit Road, Swormville. Burial will be in Cold Spring Cemetery, Lockport.