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."
"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."
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!"