What’s it like when your son or daughter leaves home to fight a war? Forty-five mothers of U.S. service men and women tell about the emotional roller coaster they experienced in a new book—Love You More Than You Know: Mothers’ Stories About Sending Their Sons and Daughters to War (softcover / $14.95 / 240 pages), which is excerpted below.
The clock on his bedroom wall stopped many months ago— I can’t remember exactly when.
He hasn’t been home since last Christmas, and my projects and hobbies have gradually drifted into corners here and there, like dandelion fluff. Summer clothes are crammed into his closet, where only his bathrobe had hung. Now, I am driven to clean and organize, to freshen the room, to put new sheets on the bed. An e-mail confirmed he’s coming home.
Since February of this year, he has lived on an amphibious assault ship with several thousand other Marines and Navy personnel. He has been carried into battle on helicopters, has been driven miles into mountains in Humvees, and, for the first time, has known what it is to command under fire.
There have been endless frustrations and deprivations, and now, finally, a brief respite before being reassigned—because this is his life, his career. His boyhood room is just a brief stopping point before moving on again.
I wonder if this larger man will fit into this tiny room now. Surely it is bigger than the bunks aboard ship. Maybe the size of the room isn’t what I should be measuring. Maybe he will tell us how he measured up out there in a very hard school of hard knocks.
I only have little bits and pieces, you see. Remember V-mail? Well, e-mail is the descendant of that super-thin, crinkly letter in pale blue that would arrive weeks, sometimes months, after it was written. Now messages zip through cyberspace across continents and oceans. Often in the early morning hours I would tiptoe upstairs, and with only the ghostly screen’s gleam to guide me, I would sit in the dark waiting for a message to download. It was like a reassuring hug when I saw his name pop up. I could imagine him sitting somewhere hunt-and-pecking. I noticed he still misspelled the same old words, but it was reassuring to read them. To see the familiar wrongs seemed to make everything right—in the dark before the dawn.
Sometimes he sent photos: a stray dog the unit befriended in Mosul, lying in her own foxhole dug by the guys, or one of himself standing on someone’s porch beside a large portrait of Saddam Hussein (I wonder how many others posed that day?). Mostly, he sent one-line messages—mundane replies to our mundane questions. As long as the messages came—frequently or infrequently—I knew he was okay.
Then for a while, we didn’t hear from him. I kept the television on CNN, at first mesmerized by the video clips, then listening with half an ear for any familiar unit names. The mail came, and in the roadside mailbox was a piece of cardboard. I found out later it was the end flap from a box of Meals, Ready to Eat, or MREs.
One side of the cardboard had his name and military unit in the top corner and our name and address centered. Where a stamp should have been, he had written “free-oif,” and the postal authorities had dutifully acknowledged that stiff brown flap’s right to free postage in a combat zone by postmarking it.
The familiar writing, scrawled across the bumpy corrugated lines, told us he was okay. We passed it around in amazement to our children and friends, as though it was some kind of holy writing, when it was really just a piece of cardboard that had traveled halfway around the world to our little corner of Ohio. The message read,
Dear Mom and Dad . . . I’m alive and well and currently in Northern Iraq. Have been here since 12 April in city of Mosul. I should be back on ship by the time you get this. Love, John.
I wondered where he was when he wrote it . . . maybe he will tell us when he gets home. I considered the many people who handled that piece of cardboard through the military and then the civilian mail systems. How many looked at it and read those lines? Did they wonder who we were and who he was, or just toss it into the mailbag? It continues to amaze us that something I almost threw away as trash, something with such a humble use as a meal container, could make it so far.
I am daydreaming as I dust and rearrange his room. I place front and center the scrapbook I have kept of his deployment: news stories, photos, e-mails, information and updates from his unit’s website. And of course, in a plastic pocket, the brown MRE postcard.
So much has happened since he left last year. Perhaps he will never truly catch up with the local news or with national events. His sister taped rugby matches to mail to him. His sister-in-law baked cookies and sent him magazines. His brothers wrote to him or sent e-mail messages. Everyone wanted to let him know he hadn’t been forgotten. But it isn’t the same as him being here.
He has missed many family milestones. One brother was married. One bought a house. One started college at night. One nephew won a swim meet, and another started preschool, while a new one was added to the family.
I have worn a mother’s service pin for months now. Meeting others who recognize its meaning makes me feel less alone. Perhaps I can safely put away the pin and retire the service flag that has hung in our dining room window. The red and blue has faded from the sun, perhaps faded as much as public interest in conflict on the other side of an ocean.
But concern never fades for those who have friends and loved ones “over there.” Prayers never end for them, for their safe return, or for those who have died in service to their country.
On the day President Eisenhower was inaugurated, a reporter asked his mother, “Aren’t you proud of your child today?” She replied, “I am proud of all my children—which one did you mean?” I always thought that a grand statement from her, and now I know how she could say it. Each child is so special, with special gifts and talents, how can a parent not be proud of each and every one? To have them nearby is a gift. To have them far away tears at you. Like President Eisenhower’s mother, I am proud of all my children too.
The summer clothes have been emptied from his closet. Soon, it will be stuffed with all his uniforms and equipment. I wipe the desk one more time, straightening his deployment scrapbook where he will see it. What have I forgotten? Oh yes, a new battery for the wall clock. Time will start again when he comes through that door.
Amy Kenneley is the mother of five grown children and grandmother of five grandsons. A lover of books, she also worked at her local public library system. She volunteers at her local historical society and is active in several genealogy groups.^ top
Excerpted from the book Love You More Than You Know, copyright © Janie Reinart and Mary Anne Mayer. All rights reserved.
This excerpt may not be used in any form for commercial purposes without the written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.
by Janie Reinart and Mary Anne Mayer
45 mothers of U.S. service men and women open their hearts and share what it feels like when your son or daughter leaves home to fight a war.
“Mom, I’m being deployed . . .” When they heard that, all of these mothers . . . [ Read More ]
Janie Reinart is a storyteller, educator, and freelance writer who seeks ways to give people a voice to tell their own stories through prose and poetry. Most weekends she can be found praying and sing . . . [ Read More ]
Mary Anne teaches and directs plays and musicals at St. Francis Xavier School. She lives in Medina, Ohio. . . . [ Read More ]Blog