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May 30, 2005 3:30 am


A Mothers' War



Of all the tributes that I've read this Memorial Day Weekend, this one, entitled"A Mothers' War," by Cynthia Gorney, had particularly poignant passages. The story centers on Tracy Della Vecchia, who runs a website for mothers nationwide whose children are fighting, and being injured, and dying, in Iraq. Tracy's son,

Derrick Jensen, has spent three birthdays in a row deployed in Iraq. There are about 140,000 American troops stationed in Iraq; 23,000 of them are marines. As this article appears, Corporal Jensen should be somewhere near Falluja. He is an infantry radio operator, which sounded to Tracy like a good, safe job until she found out that radio operators carry big antennas, which make them easier targets. She let me stay at her house for a while this winter partly because I am a reporter and happen to have a 22-year-old son who is not in the military. Tracy thought people like me might want to know something about what it's like to live all the time with that kind of information about your child, to go to sleep knowing it and wake up knowing it and drive around town knowing it, which makes it possible to be standing in the Wal-Mart dog-food aisle on an ordinary afternoon and without reason or warning be knocked breathless again by the sudden imagining of sniper fire or an explosion beneath a Humvee. Still. Derrick has been shipped home twice since President Bush delivered his May 2003 speech in front of the"Mission Accomplished" banner on the deck of an aircraft carrier, and shipped back twice. He has had one occasion of near death that Tracy knows about in some detail; there are others, she assumes, that Derrick has so far kept to himself."During the first deployment," Tracy said to me once as we were sitting in her car, a lipstick-red PT Cruiser with a yellow"Keep My Son Safe" ribbon magnet on the back,"the only emotion I could imagine him having was fear." ...
Tracy's closest friends in the world right now are other parents whose sons and daughters have served in Iraq or are serving there now. Some of these parents think the war is righteous, some think it was wrongheaded from the outset and some, like Tracy, have made fierce internal bargains with themselves about what they will and will not think about as long as their children and their children's comrades remain in uniform and in harm's way. The women Tracy meets every week for dinner, each of whom has a son in the Marines or the Army, have a"no politics" rule around their table; this was one of two things I remember Tracy telling me the first time she took me to a gathering of the mothers. The other thing was that draped over a banister in Tracy's house was an unwashed T-shirt Derrick had dropped during his last visit home. I thought Tracy was apologizing for her housekeeping, which I had already seen was much better than mine, but she cleared her throat and said that what I needed to understand was that she hadn't washed the T-shirt because if the Marine Corps has to send you your deceased child's personal effects, it launders the clothing first."That means there's no smell," Tracy said. She let this hover between us for a minute."I've heard from so many parents who were crushed when they opened that bag, because they had thought they'd be able to smell their son," Tracy said. ...
When I woke the next morning, it was barely light outside, but Tracy was already at her computer. She was smoking at her desk, which she usually doesn't do, and her face was bleak."I got a D.O.D.," she said. A D.O.D. is what Tracy calls a death notice from the Department of Defense. These notices come to her as e-mailed press releases, each with a headline that identifies the service the deceased American belonged to ... She had walked around with it all day ... she had known ... only that it wasn't Derrick, first because the Marines had not come to her house ..."The knocking on the door." ... Tracy jammed her cigarette into the ashtray, hard."And the way I'd react: You've got the wrong house. I just talked to my son. This can't be right. Denial is the first thing. And knowing there's just complete and total despair in somebody's home right now. This is their Easter." She started to cry."And I feel so grateful, and then so guilty," she said."Nobody's going to say, 'Thank God, it wasn't my son.' But that's what we're all thinking."

Read the whole article.

Cross-posted to Notablog.

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