Harder to Send a Son to War?

family photo of JP's deployment

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.

Kathleen M. Rodgers at son's deployment send offEven though we were all smiling with pride, our hearts were already breaking. I held it together for the send-off, but I fell apart after we got back to the hotel.

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

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18 Comments on "Harder to Send a Son to War?"

  1. I am doing everything in my power to steer my children away from the military or any other particularly dangerous career. I want my son working in a lab somewhere and my daughter designing new computer software.

  2. As I read this, tears come to my eyes. My toddler is fast asleep in his bed. I wonder how I will balance trying to keep him safe in life while still encouraging him to explore and dream and be an honorable man.

    Kudos to you for supporting your son's decision, as hard as it is for you!

  3. I agree completely. My husband is still active duty – F/A 18 super hornet pilot – we've lost countless friends in tragic accidents over the years and even though I still worry about him my job was never to protect him the way it has been to protect my children. My oldest starts flight school this fall and everything in me prays for his safety in a way that takes me to my knees in a different way. Our daughter has not chosen a military career but our youngest son starts this fall at Virginia Tech as a member of the Corps of Cadets and ROTC. I seriously hope medical school might be an option for him although he's always loved the sound of jet noise…

  4. Thank you for sharing. I can't imagine what it's like to send a son to war.

  5. Johnnie Dale Norris | June 29, 2014 at 5:59 pm |

    Kathy, your story is heart-wrenching. You and Tom have made a full circle from Tom's days going to war and now JP going to war. Our knee-bending prayers are with JP and you and your family. God bless.

  6. Dolly Hughes | June 29, 2014 at 6:52 pm |

    Kathy, nothing can compare to the sacrifice of sending your son into a war zone. You are missing time with him, and praying for his safe return so you can hug him tight once again.

  7. Thank God there are still men and women like 1st Lt. JP Rodgers who are willing to serve!

    And bravo to Mel! I agree with your post.

    America is a FREE country. Lt Rodgers has opted to risk his freedom, and quite possibly his life, to ensure those who want to spend their lives in labs, or academia, or retail, on Wal Street-or in Wal-Mart for that matter, have the opportunity to do so.

    I have JP on my Sunday night prayer list and on the prayer list of my little 114-year old Episcopal Church in Alabama.

    I hope to get some copies of YOUR GIFT TO ME in the mail to Lt Rodgers soon.

    And bravo, Kathleen, for a beautifully written thoughtful article that deserves a national audience.

    Sincerely,

    B.B. Latino

  8. Beautiful Kat! A snappy hand salute to “wingman”,1/Lt JP “Reddog” Rodgers! – Love Y’all! – GAR

  9. elainemansfield | June 29, 2014 at 9:34 pm |

    Beautiful, Kathleen. Both sacrifices seem excruciating. May all be well.

  10. Drema Hall Berkheimer | June 30, 2014 at 5:13 am |

    Kathleen,
    This is beautifully told. I can feel the pain in your words and see it on your face. But there’s pride there too, and faith. JP is going to be okay. Somehow I just know it.
    Much love,
    Drema

  11. Again Kathleen your pain and your love come through loud and clear. My dad and uncles survived WWII..my grandfather survived WW1 ! My husband survived Viet Nam as did 2 of my brothers. My friends got that dreaded knock at the door when their son Lincoln Hollinsaid was killed in Iraq and their lives have changed forever. My son, son-in-law and thus far, grandsons have not served. I would be terrified beyond belief if they did. If we're truthful, the thought is SOMEONE has to do it…but please God not MY child or grandchild…or husband.

  12. I agree 100% with Kathleen. Sending anyone into harms way is terrifying but when it is your son or daughter the fear becomes a second skin.
    I am so grateful for all who are brave enough to serve and also grateful for the families and friends left behind especially the Moms.

  13. kathleenmrodgers | June 30, 2014 at 1:11 pm |

    Many thanks to the good folks at SpouseBuzz for the invitation to write the bravest little essay of my writing career. I am honored and deeply grateful for the chance to give my fear a voice and name it.

    As I said in an earlier comment on this thread, when my son decided to join up, he was entering his senior year in college. I was against it at first. Then he said to me, "Mom, I'm 22 years old. It's my decision." I gulped, then said, "Okay, then Dad and I and your brother will support you 100%."

    I tackle some of these issues in my latest novel, Johnnie Come Lately, which comes out Feb 1, 2015 from Camel Press, an imprint of Coffeetown Press. Let's just say Johnnie Kitchen is a reluctant Army mom. I poured my heart and soul into this novel, and I hope to entertain readers but to also spread awareness about our troops and military families.

    Take care everyone.

  14. I don’t know what it is like to send a son to war… But I may, because I have four of them, who look up to Daddy – and a daughter, too. But I do know the fear of losing one, especially when I thought we were losing our three-month-old baby a few years ago. Still… Nothing, no fear, no anything-I-have-ever-faced, had compared to the fear and heartbreak of sending my husband to war. It literally consumed me. I can’t imagine living without my children… but even more so without my husband. We are one. He is the other half of my soul in the way my children can never be. Of course, maybe it is different since I DID know him growing up… Since he was five years old… And even when we moved away and he and I maintained friendship as young teens through letters and the yearly phone call… We always considered ourselves siblings/best friends. We knew each other’s secrets, we looked up to each other, we knew each other’s deepest fears when no one else did. Of course, as a mom I know that is not mother love…. But what we developed over the years and what we have now in eleven years of marriage is so incredibly deep and irreplaceable. I sure as hell would take a bullet for him. I would die for him. That’s what we based out courtship and engagement on… love even into death, if that is what The Lord willed. No sacrifice is too great. I would die for my children, too, and nearly did in giving birth to my last…… But even that love unto death was a reflection of that which I had solidified with my husband in the act which made is parents in the first place….

    I am not discounting your experience in the least. I just know what mine has been and will continue to be. <3 Prayers for you and your son's safety!!!!

  15. I don’t know what it is like to send a son to war… But I may, because I have four of them, who look up to Daddy – and a daughter, too. But I do know the fear of losing one, especially when I thought we were losing our three-month-old baby a few years ago. Still… Nothing, no fear, no anything-I-have-ever-faced, had compared to the fear and heartbreak of sending my husband to war. It literally consumed me. I can’t imagine living without my children… but even more so without my husband. We are one. He is the other half of my soul in the way my children can never be. Of course, maybe it is different since I DID know him growing up… Since he was five years old… And even when we moved away and he and I maintained friendship as young teens through letters and the yearly phone call… We always considered ourselves siblings/best friends. We knew each other’s secrets, we looked up to each other, we knew each other’s deepest fears when no one else did. Of course, as a mom I know that is not mother love…. But what we developed over the years and what we have now in eleven years of marriage is so incredibly deep and irreplaceable. I sure as hell would take a bullet for him. I would die for him. That’s what we based out courtship and engagement on… love even into death, if that is what The Lord willed. No sacrifice is too great. I would die for my children, too, and nearly did in giving birth to my last…… But even that love unto death was a reflection of that which I had solidified with my husband in the act which made is parents in the first place….

  16. The hardest year of my life was the one that had my husband in Iraq and my son in Afghanistan at the same time. It was always so difficult to explain the difference in worry and stress levels about each of them whenever I was asked how I managed having them both gone. It almost felt as if I was being disrespectful to my husband by worrying far more about my son. The bond with your children surpasses anything else though.

  17. my son is in the air force too, luckily the wars are winding down. the hardest issue he's had to deal with is loneliness. he's only been in 1 yr, and he's at his first duty station, has anyone else dealt with this either? he's misses the casual contact of a loved one, and finds it hard going without it.

  18. kathleenmrodgers | November 14, 2014 at 10:34 pm |

    Hi Bunny,

    Thinking of your son tonight. Loneliness is such a huge part of military life and I wish more people would speak out about it. Thanks for giving it a voice here on this comment thread. I hope your son connects with others real soon and that he will one day look back over his time in the Air Force and realize he's made lifelong friends.

    Thanks for reading my essay and leaving your comment. BTW – My son returned safely from harm's way a couple of weeks ago due to the drawdown. We were prepared for him to be deployed so much longer.

    Take care,

    Kathleen

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