Monday, November 11, 2013

A Mother's Salute to Veterans

David was only a boy when he went forth to defend his people from Goliath with a few rocks and a slingshot. From that time on, mothers have sobbed into their pillows at night, “He is just a boy, a child; he is too young to go to war.”
Even though mothers are made of something unique that restricts them from screaming out loud, their cry has echoed down through time into our own Civil War, when neighbor stood against neighbor, brother killed brother; and on to later years when our boy children fell at such unknown, far away places as Anzio, Berlin, Versailles, Guadalcanal and Bataan. The “big one” wasn’t enough, so America’s sons left home for Korea and then they bravely marched right into Vietnam.

From the time my own little boy was twelve-years-old, his dream was to become a United States Marine. That was not my dream. I knew life. I had helped friends bury their Korea and Viet Nam war hero husbands, fathers and sons. I had watched mothers raise children alone because daddies had gone to war to stand guard at our nation’s front door. I could even remember young boys on bicycles in the 1940s, wearing Western Union uniforms delivering death messages. No! War was the last thing I wanted for my son. But…I could not live his life for him.

He graduated high school and “joined up” in the summer of 1989. When the bus took the young recruits to boot camp, I ran two red lights and barely dodged a motorcycle before I realized I was in shock and pulled over to sob.
Gradually, I breathed a little easier because our country was in a state of relative peace. 

That fickle peace dissolved quickly and in August of 1990 America began sending troops to the Persian Gulf. Ordinary citizens became part of a new kind of war. From our living room recliners, we watched people going to war and this time it wasn’t just our sons. Mothers went to war, leaving their babies and children behind. Grandfathers and even Grandmothers went to war, leaving jobs, homes, and grandbabies behind.
My very own boy-child went with them and nobody had asked my permission.
The War marched across the television sets in our living rooms and offices, day after day after day. In living color and graphic detail. It would not stop.
We parents who stayed behind went about our lives in numb fear. We went to sleep watching the war and we woke up to the sounds of war in our bedrooms. We purchased VCRs to get news of the war around the clock. We wrapped cedar trees with yellow ribbons and posted pictures of our children’s units at our businesses. We watched in terrified silence as thousands and thousands of body bags were shipped to the desert—to be ready. We saw horrible documentaries of chemical warfare.
From cozy living rooms, families watched helplessly as our child soldiers climbed into their own chemical suits.
When I could stand no more of the up-to-the-minute live reports, I ran into my yard to vent my anger and fear by jerking weeds and jabbing at the dirt. Vietnam nightmares returned to older veterans—apparently in living color and graphic detail.
Americans mailed tons and tons of letters, pictures of home, electronic toys, bath soap, cookies, real Texas-style Picante Sauce and tortilla chips. We flew flags, wore buttons, caps, and tee shirts proclaiming our support. Our homeland battle cries were: Desert Shield! Desert Sword! Desert Storm! Some of us wrote as many letters to our congressional representatives as we did to our soldiers.
In January of that winter of 1991, my boy-child celebrated his 21st birthday, dressed in full chemical suit, sitting on his tank in the middle of a desert in Saudi Arabia. He was able to make a rare telephone call to me that day and said, “Mom, I love you; now don’t you worry.”  We left unsaid our fear that we would never hug each other again. Five days later the bombing started. Direct bomb hits were transmitted into our living rooms. Reporters filmed blow-by-blow explosions from their vantage points inside a modern hotel in downtown Baghdad. The calendar slipped into February and our hearts froze as the ground war crawled across our television screens.
On the Saturday of The Invasion to end all invasions, I slipped into a pew at a downtown Episcopal church in Austin, Texas. A million miles from war but as close as the hard, wooden kneeling rail. I prayed. I cried. For my son. For mothers in Iraq and Kuwait.
Suddenly—it was over.
All but a handful of the body bags came home empty and we gave thanks. We watched in pride—still from our comfortable recliners—as the troops began to march home. Unlike the Viet Nam years, this time we cheered.
Our nation had survived a new kind of war in less than a year and my boy-child returned home safely. Only now he was a man. He was quieter, stronger, and more committed than ever to the preservation of democracy. He understood freedom—first hand. His compassion ran deep
 His next job in the Marine Corps was to teach younger boy Marines how to become men of honor.
Then, there was the first World Trade Center.
And Oklahoma City.
Atlanta Olympics.
Then, America got numb.
Until September 11, 2001.
My son, like thousands of others, deployed to Iraq. Twice. Only those times, he left behind a wife and a baby daughter. His sojourn in Iraq in ’06, was bloody and he sent word of  tragedies among his men. My husband and I visited, in his place, men from his unit at the burn unit at BAMC. As a mother of a service man, that was the second hardest thing I had to do.
I was one of the blessed mothers who could welcome home a warrior son.
The hardest thing I've ever done was to kneel in front of a young Marine widow at a cemetery in Austin and say, “George’s Sgt. sent me to tell you that your husband was a brave man and a great guy and to promise you they will never forget.”
I am grateful there are men and women brave enough to serve. I am grateful there are mothers, dads, wives, husbands, and children who serve also.
To all our veterans, I pray we will never forget you.

God Bless America.

With love and prayers for those who still serve,