It’s hard to believe that it was only last year when my son was at war. Joe, the oldest of my three children, is a sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corp. Last spring, when many other American sons celebrated Mother’s Day at home with their moms, my son, Joe, was somewhere in Iraq.

I’ve tried to put that time out of my mind. It’s hard to describe what a mother goes through during such times. Other people would tell me how proud they were of Joe and his service to our country. I just wanted him home.

The thought of his safety and well being never left my mind. While I didn’t want to watch the news, I couldn’t help but follow the reports of the war. When I would hear reports that only said “U.S. servicemen” were killed, I could barely breathe until I learned which branch of the service and which units the reports were referring to. I’m not ashamed to admit I felt relief to learn when they weren’t Marines.

What was worse was that I didn’t have any idea where Joe was in Iraq. I carefully studied televised shots of U.S. troops in the desperate hopes of catching a glimpse of him. On the rare occasions when he was able to call home, he would only tell me about his health and the weather. I mentioned to him once that I thought I saw him on TV, but he said, “Mom, where we are, Tom Brokaw would never find us.”

Joe was not able to call home much, but the few times he did were joyous occasions. Even though most of our conversations were him asking me questions and telling me all the meals he wanted me to cook for him when he got home, each call was the answer to a prayer. The calls didn’t last long, and rather than end the call by saying goodbye, we generally got cut off. This would inevitably send me into a panic wondering if some disaster had befallen Joe, causing his phone to go dead.

I sent him huge boxes we called “care packages,” filled with cookies, snacks, candy, deoderant, face wipes, socks, cards and a cribbage board. After I sent them I naturally fretted over when or whether he would receive them. He told me he was having trouble digesting the MRE’s so I made sure to send him dozens of cookies I baked for him. Typical Joe; he told me later that “all the guys” loved my cookies.

When Joe was a small boy, I was concerned about bigger kids picking on him on the playground. But now, as a grown man he was in real danger. Strange people in a far away land were actually trying to kill my son. And he was trying to kill them. I found this all to be nothing less than horrifying.

It occurred to me that these other people had mothers too. And if I could talk with them, I’m sure we could settle whatever differences our nations had without endangering our sons.

As most of the rest of America celebrated Mother’s Day, I spent last year’s event worrying about Joe. George Bush had already declared the major fighting over. So why was Joe still in Iraq? I couldn’t understand it then, and now, I wonder why he had to be there in the first place.

Speaking as a mother of a career soldier, I know that war should only be viewed as a last resort. Outside of the most extreme circumstances, war should not even be considered an option. I feel that our nation was not in immediate danger of being attacked by Iraq, and it seems that any number of options could have been undertaken to avoid sending our nation into war. Saddam Hussein was a cruel tyrant. Yet, if we had only lost one soldier in order to rid Iraq of his tyrannical rule, but that one soldier was my son, it would have been too high of a price to pay. I don’t know of any mothers who feel differently.

My son is extremely proud to wear the Marine uniform and to serve his country. I’m equally proud of his commitment and his bravery. But I long for the day when he hangs up his uniform for the last time and becomes a full-time civilian. And then, he can spend Mother’s Day at home with his Mom.

Toni Junemann is head secretary in the Milwaukee public school system. She is a mother of three. Her son Joe served in the Middle East for most of 2002 and in Kuwait and Iraq from January 2003 to May 2003.

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