For too many years, I lived with the unholy fear that a blue Air Force staff car would pull up in front of my living quarters. The doorbell would ring, and the somber faces of uniformed death angels would block my escape route. “We regret to inform you,” they’d begin.
But before they could deliver another word, I’d flee through the house and smash through the back door. I would run far away from the devastating news that my fighter pilot husband and the father of our two sons had crashed and burned and he wasn’t coming home.
My two young sons and I would get a front row seat to a dignified memorial service. A sharp airman with chiseled features would present the folded flag, and then my boys and I would get kicked off base and into oblivion.
Flying fighter jets in peacetime training missions proved risky business.
In one year my husband lost eleven good pilot friends in jet mishaps. Then Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2, 1990. My husband deployed to the Middle East and into harm’s way. When my two young sons and I dropped off their daddy at the base flight line, we didn’t know if we would ever see him again.
But we did see him again, and shortly after Tom came home, he retired from the Air Force and flew for the airlines for twenty-two years. For over two decades, I had a reprieve from the worry of a military staff car pulling up next to the curb in front of my house.
Then our youngest son joined the Army.
On a recent weekend, in a parking lot at Fort Hood, Texas, I stood with my family as we gathered to say farewell to my youngest son, a first lieutenant in the United States Army, as he prepared to deploy to an undisclosed location in the Middle East.
For me, sending a son to war is worse than sending a husband into harm’s way. No matter how much you love your husband, you didn’t wipe away his childhood tears or chase away the boogeyman hiding under the bed. You didn’t cheer him on through freezing rain, eye-stinging dust storms or blazing heat in sporting events that never seemed to end.
Whether your child is five or twenty-five, mother love never changes. You might not take a bullet for your beloved, but you sure as hell would for your son.
So once again, I am living with the unholy terror of a military staff car pulling up to my home. This time it’s in a quiet civilian neighborhood where we raised our sons since my husband left the military.
In May 2012, my son’s roommate from Officer Candidate School was killed in action by an IED. From the moment our son called us with the news, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan came crashing into our home. War is no longer some abstract action taking place halfway around the world where other people’s grown children battle it out. War is personal, and my baby son is now in the thick of it.
In a parking lot at Fort Hood, surrounded by hundreds of soldiers and their families saying farewells, I watched my son interact with the men in his platoon. The little boy I once cradled and sang hymns to at night, had turned into a grown man right before my eyes. He is a leader of men I would want to follow if I were going to war.
Yet even as I embraced him for one more hug, I already missed him.
Kathleen M. Rodgers’ work has appeared in national and local publications, including several anthologies. Her Air Force Times’ essay, “Remembering Forgotten Fliers…Their Survivors,” will be republished in the new anthology, Red, White and True, forthcoming August 2014 from University of Nebraska Press/Potomac Books. Her debut novel, The Final Salute, has been featured in USA Today, The Associated Press, and several other publications and will be reissued this fall from Deer Hawk Publishing. Her second novel, Johnnie Come Lately, is forthcoming from Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press 2/1/15. She is working on a new novel titled Seven Wings to Glory and is represented by Loiacono Literary Agency. She was named a 2014 Distinguished Alumna from Tarrant County College/NE