Sunday, June 28, 2015

Mom Learns Patriotic Pride from Her Marine Son

Previously published in 2008 or 2009 on Associated Content / Yahoo Contributor Network, stolen from another website and reported! Please keep in mind that this article was written several years ago.

I wasn't always patriotic. Although I stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, held my hand over my heart, and even said the words, I didn't FEEL as strongly for my country as I suspect my grandparents did. Having grown up during the Viet Nam War era when vets were condemned, and pacifists, along with protesters and anti-war activists, hid behind the borders of Canada or Mexico, I decided long ago that if I had a son, he would never join the service, whether he was chosen by lottery or chosen by self. I was on the side of the pacifists.

Then, in March 2001, my son joined the Marines – against my will. I should have guessed Greg would become a Marine. Even as a toddler in the early-1980s, my son liked order and organization.

When he was about four or five years old he asked me to cut his long curly hair. A former hippie-type, I couldn't understand how anybody would choose a Marine-style haircut – especially MY son, and especially at such a young age. I loved his long curly hair.

But I cut it anyway, into the popular mid-80's style of Bears Quarterback, Jim McMahon. Greg looked absolutely adorable. He was so proud that his choice resulted in something he liked.

For his graduation from boot camp, two of Greg's sisters and I flew to California to be with him. Though all the uniforms would be the same, I knew I would be able to find my son among the hundreds of Marines graduating in Camp Pendleton, California, that June 2001. After all, he had always walked like a Marine – straight and powerful, with a stride that commanded attention.

What I didn't foresee was that by graduation, every Marine would walk the way my son had been walking since he was nine months old.

In his finest Dress Blues, carrying the United States Flag, my son stood proud and tall. I suddenly knew how the Viet Nam War families felt, the indignity they suffered, the crushing spirits their sons, husbands, and brothers endured, and the pain that lingered. I felt the anxiety of all those mothers who waited, before home computers, for any word of their son's well being during both of our world wars.

And I knew what it felt like to be the mother of a Marine and to share the glory of pride that all Marine parents feel in a son grown up.

I wanted the world to see in him what I saw, his growth, his maturity, and his resolve, after years of having been raised with only females in a single-parent household, to make something of himself.

The years between his birth and that graduation ceremony felt as if we had both been running a marathon. At the finish line, a hand reached down and pulled the man out of my little boy, making 18 years feel like one day.

And then, like the Twin Towers of The World Trade Center, our lives crumbled on September 11, 2001. My son was home on leave the week after Labor Day that year. After having been hooked to my computer screen at work all morning, I came home to spend lunch with my son. Our eyes locked in a moment of silence, followed by Greg singing words from an old Beatles song, "I read the news today, oh boy."

When Greg was an infant I held him tightly in my arms to comfort his cries. Now he held me tightly in his arms to say good-bye. We didn't know that in the months to follow, Greg, along with thousands of other military personnel, would be traveling a road to Baghdad because our president took it upon himself to punish one dictator for the behavior of another.

I was angry that my son's choice to join the military was perfectly timed with a president who waged war without absolute proof that Iraq was harboring weapons of mass destruction. I wanted my son home. What sense did it make to wage war to protect peace anyway?

And then I saw, "The Pianist," a moving account of survival during World War II. I credit that movie for testing my beliefs about peace and war. Could we allow another Hitler to bully and torture his own people? On the other hand, could I handle losing my son to that cause?

I heard everybody from the Pope to local demonstrators advocating peace, but not one of them offered a viable alternative to war that would convince religious fanatics to stop killing themselves for insane causes.

As a mother who suffers from separation anxiety, I had already endured a difficult time watching my son leave for Japan and Thailand, but I had an especially difficult time when he was in Baghdad. The thought of losing him forever was a daily struggle when even the mundane was stifled and filled with fear. Every day I had to envision him coming home. Every day, several times throughout the day, I had to pray for him and for all service men and women in Iraq and Afghanistan just so I could get through my day.

I couldn't allow myself to think of his conditions, their conditions -- being away from loved ones, some of whom were pregnant; enduring sweltering heat; living in fear every millisecond of every second of every minute of every hour.

I couldn't help but wonder why, after all these centuries of continued primitive and barbaric wars, we didn't have a more civilized approach to dealing with dictators. When will an intelligent leader provide a viable alternative to war? Until that time, because we are intelligent human beings with consciences, we cannot allow ourselves or our neighbors to suffer if we can do something to prevent it.

My love for my son and my love for my country were in perpetual battle with one another. I was grateful for any diversion. During one of my son's tours in Iraq, I attended a local high school's Spring Concert. In a moving tribute to the men and women in our Armed forces, Veterans were asked to stand when their branch's theme song was played. Wild applause greeted each service person who stood. And when the theme song for the Marines played, I found myself engulfed in tears.

During these past 7 years, time often seemed agonizingly slow as I awaited my son's return. But lately the years feel like they are speeding into overdrive.

When my son joined the Marines, he was single, and no matter where I moved, I kept a bedroom open for him. Greg just returned form his fourth tour in Iraq. I now hold two open rooms for him, his wife*, and their three children when they visit me in Illinois from their home in Camp Pendleton.

Like their parents before them, Greg and his wife* are discovering that no matter how much time or distance separates parents from their children, love never waivers. Though parents may sometimes grimace at the choices their children make, they will stand beside them to offer support so that when their children fall, they will be met with loving arms, a warm embrace, and encouragement to try again.

They will reward the right choices their children make or institute consequences for wrong choices. They will offer guidance and pray their children make the right decisions. And they will start by accepting little choices, even those that don't meet with their approval, like haircuts.

Before they know it and before they are ready for it, one day, on their own Independence Day, like their forefathers before them, their children will leave to begin their own little colonies.

I thank my son for teaching me the meaning of patriotism. And I thank every man and woman who has volunteered to protect the freedom of our country and the freedom of other countries.

No matter what my personal opinion about this war is, I admire and respect all of our uniformed men and women who are performing their patriotic duty.

From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli...
is a mom who's very proud of her United States Marine.

*ex-wife now

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