All Grown Up -- and Going to War

Sunday, July 8, 2007

July is a month I sincerely hoped would never come.

At the end of this month, my young son, my only child, deploys with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit. His departure had been six months away, three months; now it is a matter of weeks. The reality of it hit hard when I got an e-mail the other morning from a friend. She wondered how I was feeling. As she put it, "Maybe because we're in July." Indeed.

This week my son gets his final leave before deployment. I will do my best to remain upbeat, to make his time enjoyable. Lest any of you who are not sending your children off to war forget, it is not easy. The young man that I bore 23 years ago, whom I watched methodically unwrap Christmas presents, construct elaborate Lego sets, shoot hoops, and play "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on the violin at my father's burial, is going off to war; the same one who, at age 5, sang "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" in front of the National Christmas Tree. Of course, it is too much to expect that George Herbert Walker Bush would have any recollection of that event, or that he would care that his son is putting my son, and hundreds of thousands like him, in harm's way.

The ironies of this conflict are many for me. More than 30 years ago, I wrote my master's thesis at Columbia University on "Political Integration of the Kurds in Iraq." Little did I ever suspect that any child of mine would be a pawn in a senseless conflict in that distant land. I live now on Army Navy Drive, where, hourly, I witness the comings and goings of helicopters destined for the Pentagon and the White House. Every time I head for the George Washington Parkway, I pass Arlington Cemetery. For a while, I even had an office with a view of Arlington Cemetery. I would frequently shudder as military planes did flyovers during funerals to honor fallen service members.

Can I expect my son to return unchanged by this experience? If the media reports are any indication, that is doubtful. Will his mind be seriously disturbed by what he sees, or will his body bear wounds that will not heal? Will we, as a nation, do all that we can, as Abraham Lincoln put it, " to care for him who shall hath borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan"?

Or will we continue to make veterans prove that they are entitled to compensation for the injuries they have suffered since we cannot make them whole?

Will it take a universal draft for President Bush and the rest of the country to understand the price that this war is exacting?

-- Mary-Jo Cooney


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