Some Gave All…
All week long One, Unified will be talking to veterans both active and retired, as well as their support systems and those closest to them. It’s one small way that we have chosen to honor the brave men and women who have admirably served in the United Stated Armed Forces. Thank you for your service from the bottom of our hearts
What branch of the service are/were you in?
What do you think prompted you to join the military?
“Back in 1965 there was a Draft. The draft went into effect back in WWI, but in 1940, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the first bill to have Military Draft during Peace Time. The Draft was to make sure there were enough military personnel to protect the country from aggressors. (WAR). You had no choice, when the government sent you a letter telling you to report for duty in the service of your country.
So I was drafted.”
Where have you traveled to or been stationed while serving?
“I first went to Fort Jackson, S. Carolina, for basic training and radio school. I was then sent to Fort Gorden, Georgia, to learn radio teletype (RTT). It was a little bit better than just a radio operator. After finishing RTT school I had to wait for orders as to where I was going.
I got my orders in March of 1967 to go to Vietnam. Once there I was assigned to, 4th. Bn. 9th. Inf. 25th. Inf. Div. I was put in Headquarters Company because every Bn., (Battalion) was allotted 1 RTT operator.
RTT wasn’t really used in Vietnam so I ended up carrying a PRC 25, it was a portable radio you carried on your back.”
Of all of the places you’ve been to during your service, was there a place that you liked the most?
“Not really, but I did go to The Philippines for a 5 day R & R, (rest and relaxation). It was nice, but it was just a little time away from war.”
Were there anywhere you really disliked?
“Anywhere in Vietnam.”
Were you in combat situations?
“Yes! Combat is not nice. I was always scared. Anyone that was ever in combat will tell you they were scared all the time. If they say they weren’t afraid they were either crazy or just not in combat.”
Would you be willing to share what is your most vivid memory from the time you spent in combat?
“There are quite a few things that stand out. The one that always comes to mind first was the day I lost a good friend. We were told we shouldn’t make friends, for that, reason. We had gotten to an area we would be staying in for a couple of days. After setting up our shelter halves, I was the one on duty. The other radio operators were able to take a break. My friend, SGT. Edwards, was going to meet another friend that was with another unit but had joined up with us. The other friend was a Medic. He had only been gone about 5 minutes when we started to get mortared. I looked over at our shelter halves and noticed Sgt. Edwards helmet and flak jacket were still there. When they would Mortar us they would usually fire 10 to 15 mortars, and move to another location so we would have trouble pin pointing where they were. So I knew we had about at least 15 minutes between attacks. As it turned out it was the only attack at that time. I grabbed Sgt. Edwards’ helmet and flak jacket, and went over to the other unit. I saw dead guys in foxholes and wounded guys. I called the medic, and when he turned around he was covered in blood. Some was his, some as it turned out was Sgt. Edwards’. They were next to each other in a ditch when a mortar landed next to Sgt. Edwards. The medic was mostly protected by the Sgt. who took most of the blast. The medic tried everything he could, but Edwards was killed instantly. The helmet and flak jacket would not have saved him. I didn’t want to look at him so I just went back to my radio. I did send my helmet and flak jacket in with the Sergeants’ body. I wore his for the rest of my time in Vietnam.”
What do you think the biggest need of Vets returning home from war today is?
“Every solider returning from combat should be talked to about what they saw and what they did. Then it would be determined if they may or may not need counseling. It should be started right away.”
As a vet, do you have any recommendations for those who may be returning from duty and not know what to do or where to go for help, or that they even need help?
“Most, maybe not all, will end up having some kind of problem. It could be drinking, drugs, nightmares, anger issues. Sometimes it takes years to realize something is wrong you. Listen to other people. They may see something not quite right, that you, yourself cannot see.”
What do you usually do on Veteran’s Day?
“There is always some kind of parade, or services, something. I always spend part of the day with other veterans, that’s who we are most comfortable with.”
Do you have advice or thoughts for someone who is considering military service at this moment but are undecided?
“The military can be a great life. There’s great opportunities for school, a college degree, and travel. The only problem is, if there’s conflict somewhere, you could be thrust into war and killed- or lose an arm or leg or both. You have to look at all the options before you sign that paper.”
Some Gave All…
WHAT BRANCH OF THE SERVICE ARE/WERE YOU IN?
“I was army.”
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO JOIN AND HOW OLD WERE YOU?
“I enlisted at 24. I had a teaching job before the army, and I felt I needed to do something different with my life.”
WAS YOUR FAMILY SUPPORTIVE OF YOUR DECISION?
“My family was not very supportive. My mother did not speak to me for two weeks. She had hopes for me to go to college, get a good job, but I wanted to choose my own journey. Not the one that she wanted for me. I went to college for five years as a sign language interpreting major, but I was bored with my life.”
YOU MET YOUR HUSBAND WHILE SERVING, GOT MARRIED AND RECENTLY HAD A BABY. DO YOU FEEL LIKE IT WAS A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE BEING PREGNANT AND GIVING BIRTH WHILE IN THE MILITARY THAN IT WOULD HAVE BEEN AS A CIVILIAN?
“The only difference between civilian versus military with pregnancy and childbirth is that a female soldier who gets pregnant, can take an optional discharge, an honorable discharge, out of the military. It is called a chapter 8. That is what I did. I delivered at an army hospital, which had civilian doctors, as well as army. What I did not like about the army while I was pregnant was the lack of compassion. Every pregnancy is different. Just because I’m throwing up every five minutes does not mean that I need to be sitting around in an office. If nothing is going on during the workday, I can’t just go on up to my room to lay down and throw up in my bathroom. You can’t call out sick in the army. You can try to have a doctor give you quarters, but good luck on that. My pregnancy was very rough from the beginning, and I was still sent on a mission in the beginning when I was trying to get out. But [you] made me go on the mission instead of getting me out? I had to wait till I got to my new duty station to get out.”
WHAT DO YOU DO ON VETERANS DAY?
“I don’t do much on Veterans Day. I try to avoid the free meals, because it’s always a very long wait.”
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO IS CONSIDERING MILITARY SERVICE BUT IS STILL UNDECIDED?
“My advice to anyone who is considering going in the military is if you want to do it, do it. Everybody has their own experience. Everybody handles things differently, and everybody processes things differently. I thought basic training was fun. I knew the drill sergeants were messing with my head. I kept that in my mind when they play games with us. Because it was all a game. The military is not for everyone. Be prepared for a lot hurry up and wait, and a lot of last minute things.”
AS I MENTIONED, YOU RECENTLY MARRIED AND HAD A BABY. HOW DID YOU AND YOUR HUSBAND MEET?
“Brandon and I met when we were stationed together in Germany. We were in the same unit.
DO YOU THINK YOU FACED ANY ADDITIONAL CHALLENGES BEING A COUPLE STATIONED TOGETHER IN THE MILITARY?
“We faced several challenges. Brandon was an e5 and I was an e3, and when we went to our platoon sgt to inform him we wanted to date, we were kept in the same platoon. But chain of command was aware of our relationship. When we were married, we were still kept in the same platoon. When we were married, we were denied housing because Brandon was already on orders to pcs, so we had to live apart in the barracks for 5 months. When Brandon came down on assignment, he went to get his orders and it was found that our married army couple paperwork had never been submitted- though we had then dated a few weeks back. Come to find out, someone didn’t send the email up to higher. I ended up being left behind. It was too late for Brandon to file an extension. I tried to file a curtailment (early release from unit) and it was sat on for 3 months, then denied. I rechecked the regulations and it didn’t pertain. I tried 2 more times. 14 months later when I PCSed, it was still pending.”
NOT EXACTLY CHALLENGES A CIVILIAN COUPLE DEALS WITH, BUT I GUESS RELATIONSHIP ISSUES ARE UNIVERSAL?
“Things are out of your control, like someone’s human errors and not filing your marital paperwork, therefore you and your spouse get split up for over a year, normal couples don’t face things like that.”
Some Gave All…
What branch of the service are/were you in?
I was in the Army.
What do you think prompted you to join the military?
It had to be the medical coverage for my son and a guaranteed pay check each month.
Have you been in a combat situation?
Yes. During my 15-month tour in Iraq, my unit received mortar attacks for the first 8-9 months we were there. As far as a direct fire fight goes, the answer is no.
Was your family supportive of your decision?
I know that they were supporting and proud of what I did. However, I also know that they were terrified of what I had to do. And, they missed me being home.
Where have you traveled to or been stationed at while serving?
I have been to a lot of place in the USA from the east coast to the west coast. I lived in Germany for three years, in South Korea for three years, and Kuwait/Iraq.
Where did you like the most?
I loved Germany. It is very beautiful and the people are great. Also, I loved Hawaii. I would recommend a trip to see/visit both to anyone.
Where did you like the least?
I would have to say Iraq. It’s not because of the country, but knowing that my family worried so much about my safety each and every day that I was there.
What do you do on Veteran’s Day?
I like to send a message to all my military family on Facebook who served before me, with me, and are still serving now. Because every American needs to remember, honor, and understand the meaning to the words “All gave some, some gave all”. We wouldn’t have our freedom with out them.
Do you have advice or message for someone who is considering military service at this moment but are undecided?
Yes. Military service is not just a decision; it’s a lifestyle and commitment to something more than yourself. It’s a brotherhood that you have never seen nor heard of until you are in it. The comradery is beyond anthing you can image. I miss serving my country after 20 years on active duty. If I could do another 40, I would in a second.
Some Gave All…
Why did you join the military?
“I needed a change of scenery and had a broken heart.”
Did you serve overseas during wartime?
Yes. I was involved in several operations. Panama Operation Acid Gambit (an operation to retrieve Kurt Muse from a jail in Panama City). I was special forces. Our helicopter lost lift, crashed in the street, then the Panama defense league surrounded us, taking small arms fire. My friend got hit in the head with a propeller but thankfully survived with only a concussion. Another one (friend) broke a leg. We were running low on ammo when the seventh marine division rescued us. I was shot in the arm from a ricochet. I thought someone punched me in the arm till I felt it and my sleeve was soaked.
I was also in the first gulf war, Operation Desert Shield, doing intel surveillance. I was in a gulley with three others, counting tanks, seeing troop movement. (This is when we invaded Kuwait.) There was a little girl playing soccer nearby. Well, she kicked the ball into our ditch and saw us. Then she went and told her father. That started an attack on us, but fortunately were rescued after the fight.
I also was in Operation Desert Storm from 1990-1991. We fought the Republican Guard surrounding Sadam Hussein in Baghdad. We usually went in with British SAS (Special Air Service).
Lastly, I was involved in the Somalia operation, Gothic Serpent (otherwise known as Black Hawk Down 1993): suppose to be a half hour/45 minute mission. Army rangers and special forces there, setting up perimeter to arrest Mohamed Farrah Aidid.
I left after that mission after seeing so many killed. Eighteen year olds bleeding out in front of me. Another ones head blown off. A lot of people died there. That battle lasted so long, overnight. In hindsight, I should’ve stayed in.”
What are your most vivid memories of your time in the service?
“The first person I killed, it was sickening. I got sick to my stomach, but it was also a rush. I felt powerful.”
Would you recommend the service to others and what advice would you give them?
“Yes and I would tell them to stay in no matter what and retire there.”
Did your family support your decision?
“My mother no, my father yes.”
What do you feel was the best part of being in the military?
“All of the cool toys, like the weapons. Also what I got to do with every resource like jumping out of planes and repelling.”
What did you get from your time in?
“Experience in fighting and pushing myself beyond my limits.”
If you traveled, what was your favorite place you were in?
“Alaska. I learned to ski and love skiing to this day.”
What do you do to commemorate Veterans Day?
“Usually visit my brothers at the VA hospital.”
Is there anything else you feel is important for people to know?
‘There is no higher honor than to defend your country. The sad part is the goverment has forgotten the vet. You see guys waiting for benefits and depend on it, they’re not taken care of. I couldn’t sleep and they just issued Xanax. They would just offer pills to fix it.”
Some Gave All…
SO YOU BASICALLY HELP GUIDE THEM IF THEY ENCOUNTER ANY ISSUES?
“Yes. We welcome them to the home. We give them all a welcome kit. Make them feel at home.”
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN DOING THIS FOR?
“For about four years.”
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BECOME INVOLVED HERE?
“Just so I have something to do. Being involved in different things. I do the honor guard here and I was president of the “B unit”, but when I got sick, I had to go upstairs to the “D unit”, which is intermediate care. So, I was president over here (B unit) for about six years. I loved it. But people said that that was probably why I got sick; because I took so much on my own. I said they might be right, but I still miss it because it made me feel like I was responsible and could still do stuff. I have a computer and if people needed to do anything, I could go on the computer if I didn’t have an answer. My background is social security administration. So I know about social security. I’ve gotten a couple of people here on social security since I got here that weren’t on it before. I processed the whole case for them. If they’re not getting what they need, I’ll go to anybody to get what they need- representatives, senators, lieutenant governor.
WHAT BRANCH OF THE MILITARY DID YOU SERVE IN?
“Army. 3 active (’60-’63) and 3 inactive, right before Vietnam. Unfortunately, well fortunately, I wasn’t overseas.”
WERE YOU IN DURING WARTIME?
“I was in during the Cuban missile crisis, the Berlin Wall, and the beginning of Vietnam. I was in administration at the missile site. We protected the East coast. [We were] in Connecticut. We had four missile sites and then when we left, I was the last group there, we turned them all over to the National Guard. We used to have to go on alerts and everything when these things came up. Like the Cuban missile crisis, we thought we were gonna go to war. Kennedy said “you get those missiles out of Cuba or we’re coming and taking them out.” He didn’t mess around. I liked him. I wish he wouldn’t have got shot.”
DID YOU HAVE ANY FRIENDS THAT DID GO OVERSEAS?
“I met some people that came back from Korea. Vietnam didn’t really start until about 65-67 something like that. Just before I got out they sent advisories over in like ’63/64. I enjoyed the service. I liked it.”
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO JOIN?
“I just wanted to go in and hope to make a better person out of myself. Become a man, so to speak. I went in when I was a kid. I was only like 17, right out of high school.”
ARE YOU GLAD YOU WENT IN?
“Oh yeah. I liked it a lot when I went in.”
HOW DID YOUR MOTHER FEEL WHEN YOU SENT INTO THE SERVICE?
“She missed me because I was the baby of the family. But I wasn’t that far away. The farthest I went was South Carolina for training. I went to Missouri for training and to Benjamin Harrison for administrative training. I loved it there. There were all girls. It was really nice. I met Jane Mansfield there.”
DID YOU HAVE A FAMILY OF YOUR OWN?
“No. I’ve never been married. Been a bachelor all my life. I was a chaser, not a catcher.”
DO YOU DO ANYTING SOECIAL TO COMMEMORATE VETERANS DAY?
“We’re gonna be with the honor guard from the Stetson school down the road. They have an ROTC. They come up here and do the honor guard here with us. They do a show with the rifles and everything. They’re a good group.”
IF PEOPLE WANT TO HELP, WHAT SHOULD THEY DO?
“Go to the computer and look it up. It’ll tell you different things that are needed and wanted.”
DO YOU THINK SOME VETERANS ARE AFFECTED MORE THAN OTHERS?
“Vietnam vets are. They were pushed aside. Nobody wanted to care for them. They actually gave up. What they tried to do when they got back, was get PTSD training. Even that didn’t work sometimes. They get so distressed, they go back on drugs, alcohol. They get disgusted, sometimes try to commit suicide. We have people here like that. DPW gives a class, working with the veterans affairs. They never did that before, so that’s a good thing. They need help and people to help them out. I want to start a committee here.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE THAT IS CONSIDERING THE MILITARY?
BEFORE GOING IN?
“No, do it while you’re in. It’s free. You can’t beat it. Get a college education. When I was in, they used to have a deal with Duke or North Carolina, those colleges. So you’d get a college education from Duke, North Carolina, one of those big colleges. I was gonna go to Connecticut, but unfortunately I made a lot of stupid mistakes when I served. I was gonna go but I was playing ball and I didn’t like school. When I was in the service, I trained everybody in the camp or at the headquarters. All the new changes, everything. I taught school. I liked to teach but not as a student. Then they made a Major change in motor vehicles. They changed the whole system around and my boss thought so much about me that he wanted me to train the whole facility. So I trained the whole facility. After that, he knew I played ball and everything, so he took me down to West Point and tried to get me in there. Second mistake I made. He introduced me to the commanding officer and said “Why don’t you go to West Point? You can do it. You can play ball for them.” I turned it down, I didn’t go. Like a stupid idiot. But I try not to look back. It gives you something to talk about.”
Some Gave All…
“United States Marine Corps 1951-1967.
I spent 6 years in the regular and the balance (10 years) was in the reserves.”
WERE YOU STATIONED LOCALLY?
“In the reserves I was at the Philadelphia Naval Yard and at Willow Grove.”
WHAT MADE YOU DECID TO JOIN THE MILITARY?
“Well, the Second World War had ended a few years earlier. I wasn’t ready to attend college, so I thought I’d go in there and spend a few years and then go to school. I joined and shortly after, The Korean War broke out. So I ended up being in for the Korean War and I stayed until 1956. Then I met my wife and that was the end of the active duty. Then I stayed in Philadelphia since that was my home. I met her at the USO at 15th and Arch.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE SERVING DURING WARTIME?
“It was pretty horrible because the people were shot up pretty badly. The country was overrun. Earlier in 1950-51 we invaded and started pushing them up to the north. That’s when we had the famous run up to the reservoir and they drew back and ended up at the DMZ (de-militarized zone), which remains standing and they’re still fighting about it to this present day. It’s actually the 38th parallel and it crosses right through there. We were stationed on the Han River when the war ended.”
WHAT IS YOUR MOST VIVID MEMORY OF YOUR TIME IN KOREA?
“I guess the biggest thing that I remember is how horrible it was and how bad off the people were. The homes were pretty well shot up to nothing and they lived in just huts with roofs that were bamboo. It was so cold over there. It’s the coldest place I’ve ever been in my life. It’s well known for that. It was like 5-10 below zero. It’s warm in the summer but then it gets very very cold.”
DO YOU ANY HAVE CHILDREN?
“Yes, my wife and I have two children. A daughter and a son.”
DID EITHER OF THEM PURSUE MILITARY CAREERS?
WOULD YOU HAVE WANTED THEM TO?
“I would’ve had no objection. But my son decided that he wanted to go to school, which was a smart move, and he did it. So we’re just as happy.”
DID YOUR FAMILY SUPPORT YOUR DECISION TO GO INTO THE MILITARY?
“Oh yeah, positively. My mother wasn’t too happy but she accepted it because my father said “let him get it out of his system.” I didn’t anticipate a war though.”
DID YOU TRAVEL ANYWHERE ELSE WHILE YOU SERVED, BESIDES KOREA?
“I was in China; Guam; San Francisco; Oceanside, California; Quantico, Virginia; North Carolina; Puerto Rico; infamous training on the Mediterranean. We didn’t sit around and do nothing. Oceanside was quite a town. It wasn’t anything 60 years ago. I can say the same thing about Korea. Friends of mine just came back from visiting Korea and I’ve talked to some of the local people from Korea, and they were showing me (pictures), and it looked a lot like Levittown or something like that. Single homes. It was devastation when I was there and you just wondered how people existed. People were living under canvas and living in tents and sleeping in anything they could possibly find to cover them. It was horrible. But it was so nice to see what the country has been able to do. And then the interesting thing is, I’ve seen pictures of North Korea and it’s probably about the same as it was 60 years ago. Devastation is still up there. People are still subjected to the great ruler that they have. There’s no future. It’s sad. I don’t know if they’ll ever get happy with each other.”
WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE OF ALL THE ONES YOU TRAVELED TO?
“Well, probably the best place that I saw was Southern California. I’ve been back there quite a few times. It drew me to it. As a matter of fact, I would’ve moved there but unfortunately, my wife had an anchor in Philadelphia, so we stayed in Philadelphia. It’s (California) a beautiful part of the country.”
DO YOU DO ANYTHING SPECIAL TO COMMEMORATE VETERANS DAY?
“I belong to the VFW and the American Legion and we always do something on Veterans Day. For the last 12 years, I’ve been here at the veterans home and we have regular ceremonies here on Veterans Day. It just so happens that November 10, the day prior to it, is the anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps birthday. So we start on the tenth celebrating the marine corp birthday, the 239th, and then we’ll have Veterans Day the next day. Works out pretty good.”
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO GET INVOLVED HERE AT THE HOME?
“When I retired, and returned to Philadelphia, I thought I’d come over and spend an hour or two, just to get out of the house. And then I became attached to the place and now I usually come over four or five days a week. I enjoy the work. The guys need help. It’s an enjoyable time for myself and it keeps me moving.”
DO YOU FEEL THAT VETERANS RECEIVE THE HELP OR RESPECT THEY DESERVE?
“I wouldn’t say that. I just think we need to keep educating people on the needs of the veterans. A lot of them just ignore it and they don’t really know what the needs are. This is one of the things that all of the veterans organizations are trying to do at the present time. Let the people know what the exact needs are of the veteran today. Especially with these young guys coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. They suffered so much with the IUD’s going off over there. PTSD is a real serious problem. Now they know more about it, and we even had our share of it. I wasn’t hooked up in the Vietnam war but I know some of the guys that were and it’s a pretty serious problem. It’s hard to shed some of the memories that you’re inflicted with when you’re over there. It’s difficult.”
WHAT CAN PEOPLE DO TO GET INVOLVED AND TO HELP VETERANS?
“I think the thing that they should do, is when there’s announcements or different comments made on how to help veterans, maybe once a twice a year, if they don’t do it ever, try to do something to help a veteran. There’s nothing wrong when you see one of your neighbors who might’ve been a veteran, mention a thank you for their service. It’s a tough thing that they did and we should all be grateful for the guys that put in their time. And especially for the guys that didn’t come back, make sure you let their families know that they are missed.”
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE THAT IS CONSIDERING JOINING THE SERVICE?
“I would suggest that they get a good education before they go. Because the opportunities of the service are vast. It’s not like the old service used to be. It’s important that you know your arithmetic, know languages. It’s on a higher level. Because of all these weapons and different things, planes, ships are sophisticated. The government right now is very selective on young people joining the service. You have to pass a certain minimum. It’s gonna advance their opportunities when they go into the service. I can assure you that I stay close to the service at the present time and one of the first things they do, once you’re in about six months, is start to try to interest you in advancing your education internally. You can even get some years of college while your enlisted and get an associates degree and they’ll pay for it. So that starts you off pretty good and when you get out, you go for your Bachelors.”
**If anyone would like to make donations of clothing, toiletries, iPods, or to volunteer or get a list of other needed items please contact Jack O’Donnell at Deleware Valley Veterans Home ~2701 Southampton Rd~ Philadelphia, PA.**
Some Gave All…
WHAT FAMILY MEMBERS HAVE YOU HAD IN THE MILITARY?
“First, I have my husband with the national guard during desert storm. And he served in the army. My older son (Oscar), he served with the marines. He joined in 2008 and just left this year. He was a reservist and served a tour in Iraq. And my youngest son (Alex) joined the military in 2001 and the day that he took his ASVAB exam was September 11, 2001. And I knew he was gonna get sent to Iraq.”
SO HE HAD ALREADY JOINED BEFORE THE ATTACKS?
“He joined two months before and when he was taking his ASVAB, which is a placement test for the military. He called me from McGuire and said “Mom, the place is shut down.” And I said “Yeah, we’ve had a terrorist attack.” And I told my husband, they’re sending my son to Iraq. So he went out when the war started in 2003 with the US Navy.”
WHY DID THEY JOIN?
“My older son joined because my younger son was in the navy. He just wanted to be a reservist and then was sent to Iraq. He served his tour as a reservist but he may join another branch of the military. He and his wife are taking about it. My younger son was going to school and had a part time job and then he had a fight with his girlfriend. He called me up at work and told me he was joining the navy. That’s exactly how it went down.”
WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION WHEN THEY TOLD YOU THEY WERE JOINING THE SERVICE?
“When my youngest joined in 2001, I was fearful but of course there was no mention of war. Then on the morning of 9/11, I was at the airport where I used to work, and the terrorist attack happened. I knew in my heart of hearts that they were going to send him, and they did. Not a good time for us. I cried. I didn’t cry when he joined but I did on 9/11. I cried for a lot of reasons but I cried because my heart was torn, because I knew they were sending my baby, my youngest son, to war. I was scared for him. It was a lot of months of crying and a lot of emotion and praying. But I had a lot of support, so that was a good thing. I had friends at work, friends in the neighborhood, family. Everywhere we went, someone would do something for him. So that kept our hopes up, but when they sent him on the second and third tours it got scarier and scarier. His last tour was the worst for us. That was in ’06 & ’07. He was a door gunner with the US Navy, from San Diego. That was heart wrenching. They flew all over Iraq, in and out of missions. He did get injured out there the one day- his last tour. They set traps and when they landed the black hawk, he got off and there was a trap and he sprained his ankle. He was ok, but when he got to the military hospital in Baghdad, he said “I’ll be fine, cause there were so many guys that we killed that day.” That was a bad time, in 2006.
His best friend was killed in Iraq- Nicky Zangara. He was from this neighborhood. They have a memorial bench around the corner at the park. We were in San Diego, and my son (Alex) had just come back from the second tour and we went to meet him. We were staying in a hotel and he had roommates that had rented a house. We went to Tijuana and came back and we were just chilling in the hotel room. Next thing you know a cell phone rings and he (Alex) gets up and starts screaming. He ran out of the hotel room. That was his best friend since childhood. We stopped our vacation. We left after our second day. We just flew home because he wanted to be home for his friend’s funeral. It was crazy. They wouldn’t let him do anything with the casket because the military takes care of all that for a funeral. But he spoke to them and they let him carry the casket. He told them it was his best friend and he would be in full uniform. That was heart wrenching. He has a tattoo with the rifle and helmet and his friends name. He even named his dog after his best friend.”
SO WHEN YOUR OLDER SON TOLD YOU HE WAS GOING TO JOIN, WHAT RAN THROUGH YOUR HEAD?
He told me, “I think I’m gonna join the reserves.” My husband and I were like, “don’t do it! Please. They’re going to send you to Iraq.” He said, “no, the recruiter said I’m gonna be ok because I have great grades.” . He [went] and graduated from the marines. He led his group in. He excelled at everything. And I knew. I begged him not to go. When he told me he was going to Iraq, I swear I thought I was gonna have a nervous breakdown. He missed his sisters wedding, the birth of his second son. That’s hard on the family. Especially the mother.
They televised him live from Iraq 5000 miles away so he could be in the room during the birth of his second child. All the news stations covered it. You could see him live and he could see the birth of his child. [It was set up by] The Freedoms Foundation. They’ve done it for a lot of military men and women. I think he was the first one they did it for in the state of Pennsylvania.”
WHAT WOULD YOU SAY WAS THE HARDEST PART FOR YOU, AS A MOM, HAVING YOUR KIDS BE IN THE MILITARY AND THEN OF COURSE TO WAR?
“The hardest thing, because they joined during a time of war (had they joined any other time, things would’ve been a lot different) was not knowing if they were okay. They couldn’t call or write all the time. The letters were sporadic. The phone calls, at one point I didn’t talk to my son for 21 days. I remember praying to God to give me a sign and I got a call that night. If they got hurt, sick, injured, you didn’t know. Then I became fanatical, reading newspapers, going on the computer, I became a follower of the navy moms. I actually knew what base he was on, where he was. I got really into it because it was really getting to me. It was scary. You never know. And some of them, like his best friend, never made it home. Also, holidays, birthdays, weddings are awful and depressing- not the same.”
WHAT GOT YOU THROUGH IT?
“Prayer. Supportive friends and family. I had a great support group. I got very involved with bible reading and the church and praying and my rosary beads. And here’s a story I HAVE to tell you! During his last tour he was dating a girl. We’re catholic but she wasn’t. She was a Mormon. He calls her, she was doing some support work for the Navy out of Virginia. So she could get in the computer and email him and he could respond more with her than he could with us. He sends her an email and says that he lost his rosary beads, please send me beads. He forgot she’s a Mormon. So she doesn’t know what rosary beads are. So she calls me like five days later and said he emailed her a few days before.
She said “he needs beads”.
I was like, “beads?”
She says, “yeah, he lost his beads.”
I said, ” you mean rosary beads?”
She said, “yes he lost the ones he had in his pocket.”
I flipped out. So I went to the St. Jude shop (this is on a Sunday) and the lady is closing the door. I’m begging her “please, open the door. I have to buy beads for my son. He’s in Iraq.” She opens the door and gives me the beads. I paid her whatever I had. I didn’t care if I got the change. Monday morning I went to St Martha’s mass and asked the priest to please bless the beads. I put them in a box and express mailed them to him that Monday. He got them that Friday. The same day they were shot down and he injured his leg. He went to the hospital. Then when he got to his barracks, the beads I sent were on the bed. He said, “Mom, I know you sent them with a lot of love and that God was watching over me and I survived that.” I still get the goosebumps. Freaky. But the grace of God.”
DO YOU THINK EITHER OF THEM HAD ANY REGRETS JOINING?
“Neither of my sons regretted it. My youngest regrets some of the things he did while he was out there. He doesn’t like to talk about what he saw and had to partake in. Not hurting women and children. He wasn’t part of any of that. They regret a lot of what they saw. But he doesn’t regret joining. Neither does my older son.”
DO YOU THINK IT WAS GOOD FOR THEM?
“Now, I can say I do. My younger son has seen the world. He’s gone everywhere except Russia, Cuba and China. He’ll call me and say “I’m in Africa”, or “I’m on The Nile River”, or “I’m in Japan.”
He sings that song “I’ve been everywhere man…” He’s been all over the US and abroad. He just spend two months in Italy. He loves that he’s seen the world. They do a lot of missions where they drop food during disasters. He’s an expert diver so they send him to assist. Now he’s a flight engineer and he works in quality assurance all over the United States. He’s got a good job. He wants to move up. I feel better now that he has a better job and that the chances of him being sent to Afghanistan are slim. But he still goes to Bahrain and he goes to Dubai all the time and stays in these nice places. But I still worry when they go to bring back soldiers cause they can still get shot down.
He started out as a mechanic and now he’s gonna be a pilot!”
Some Gave All…
WHAT BRANCH OF THE SERVICE WERE YOU IN?
“I was in the U.S. Army from 1990 to 1992ish.”
WHY DID YOU JOIN THE MILITARY?
“I joined because I had nothing else going on. I was barely getting by in high school, going to night school to get my diploma. I was working in an auto body shop. I had no direction.”
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN IN A COMBAT SITUATION?
“I was assigned to an engineer battalion in Germany after basic training. From there I volunteered to go to Operation Desert Storm. When deployed to the first Gulf War, I was assigned to the First Tiger Brigade, a joint coalition of U.S. Marines and U.S. Army. I was attached to a mechanized infantry unit as an individual replacement and fought with the 2nd Armor Division. HELL ON WHEELS! Best damn patch in the Army! We were the first ground troops to go into Kuwait when the ground war started. It was intense. I was only months removed from basic training. “Follow your training” that is what I’d tell myself over and over again.”
WHAT ARE YOUR MOST VIVID MEMORIES OF YOUR TIME IN THE SERVICE?
“The most vivid memories were of the time in battle. Seeing the aftermath, feeling the ground shake when bombs were dropped, clearing compounds. It was unlike anything I ever expected to experience.”
WOULD YOU RECOMMEND THE SERVICE TO OTHERS? WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE THEM?
“I would ABSOLUTELY recommend the service to any young man or woman that wishes to serve their country or just needs that discipline and direction in their life. Take the time seriously. Take the training deadly serious. The discipline and sense of personal accomplishment will be with you for life. I did not go to college after the military, but I have a successful career and a fulfilling life. I owe the credit to the men that trained me. The Drill SGT is someone that should have statues erected to them. They have saved many a young man’s life. I owe a lot to what I learned in Fort Leonard Wood.
DID YOUR FAMILY SUPPORT YOUR DECISION?
“Yes and No. My Mother actually took me to an anti-war protest while I was at home on break between basic and AIT (advanced infantry training; where you learn your speciality). I was a Combat Engineer, explosives! I couldn’t believe my Mother had taken me there. There were TV camera’s and I clearly had the haircut and look of a recruit. I got out of their quick. Our Soldiers need to know we support them no matter what. I will never be part of any anti-war protest, no matter how I feel about it. You need to feel like you are doing it for the right reasons, not to think your country isn’t behind you.”
WHAT DO YOU FEEL WAS THE BEST PART OF BEING IN THE MILTARY? AND WHAT WAS YOUR FAVORITE PLACE YOU TRAVELED TO?
“Best part was blowing shit up. For real. I am some kid from K &A. I got to play with C4, dynamite, land mines, etc. Absolutely amazing! My favorite place to travel was the area near where we lived in Germany. The city was Heilbronn. It was beautiful. [There were] rolling hills, vineyards, amazing scenery.
WHAT DO YOU DO TO COMMEMORATE VETERANS DAY?
“I remember those who served and passed. Sgt. Michael Scusa. He is the brother of a friend. He was young when I met him and I told him how much I loved the time in the Army. He joined and fought and passed in the War in Afghanistan. He is a true American Hero and gave his life for what he believed. No soldier is lost in vein nor lost for nothing. We know what we are signing up for and I am proud to have known him.
I honestly feel that every Veteran should have off on Veterans day. No vacation time or PTO needed. We have done our part, we deserve our day. I’d still die for my country today, once a soldier always a soldier I guess. I love this Country no matter what condition we are in. It may not be perfect, but I’ll take it over anywhere else in the world. When you see a soldier, we don’t need a thank you for your service. It’s overused, in my opinion. Respect, just a thank you, no other words. We did it for love of country, for love of family. I think many would do it all over again.
Some Gave All…
This nation shall remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave” ~Elmer Davis
Tuesday, November 11th is Veteran’s Day here in the United States. For some it’s a day of reflection. For others, a day of somber remembrance. For some it’s a day of pride and hope. No matter what the day means to you personally, I think we can all agree one one thing. Veteran’s Day is a day to pause and say a heartfelt thank you to every brave man and women who donned the uniform of any one of our branches of the armed forces. A day to say thank you to people who, when called to duty, went without question or regard to their personal safety. A day to say thank you to men and women who left their spouses and partners, parents who left their children, friends and lovers and neighbors who left it all behind when duty called. Some would return, some would never get the chance. And although their family’s pain is palpable, no matter how much time has passed, their service and their sacrifice remains a point of pride for them. It is a point of pride for all of us. No matter how you feel about politics, about war, about military service, it’s almost impossible not to look at a photo of, or into the eyes of, someone who has put their life on the line because they believed. They believed that their service was needed. They believed that there was honor in their quest. They believed that they were a part of something larger than themselves. And we believe it too. And that is the legacy of Veteran’s Day. That is the legacy we owe them. That is the legacy of every person who did not make it home.
We were so blessed and fortunate to be able to talk to people who served. I can not begin to thank these people enough for sharing their personal accounts of military life. We spoke to people currently in the service, and those retired from duty. We talked to people about the reserves, about active duty, about being in combat, losing someone fighting along side you, and even to a couple who met, married and had a baby, all while serving. We spoke to people who did not serve in the military but who serve a great purpose as the support system behind those who do. We spoke to those who lost loved ones while in service. And we looked within ourselves to share our personal accounts of losing someone to the unspeakable tragedy of war.
We truly believe in this site and in this subject. We hope that in honor of Veteran’s Day, and as a way to respectfully tip your hat to all vets and their families, you will check back every day this week to see who we are speaking to, who we are honoring, and what we are sharing in honor of the women and men of our United Stated Armed Forces….
Michelle & Noelle