From Iraq to Redding … 10 Years Later

  

Ten years ago today I was sitting at my desk in the newsroom when the editor broke the news I'd been dreading: The Marine Corps had crossed over into Iraq. I knew that meant my son, Joshua, was there, because he and his 1rst Recon Battalion Marine Corps buddies were the "tip of the spear" - a term no parent wants attributed to their child.

I went into the women's restroom and cried in a bathroom stall. I returned to my desk, but not because I felt better. What I felt most like doing was to drop to the floor and become a one-woman wailing wall. I couldn't stop thinking of Joshua, my once-little-boy with the Super Josh cape -  in a combat zone on the other side of the world where I was helpless to protect him.

I told myself that if Joshua - barely 22 years old- could hold it together and do his job,  then I could pull myself together and honor him by doing mine.

Some people marveled at how "well" I was doing, but inside, my brain was on a broken-record loop - whether I was grocery shopping or typing or driving: Please God keep him alive, please God don't let him die, please God keep him safe, please God, please God, please God I'm begging you God please God.

Eventually, it just turned to shorthand: please ... the last word I thought before I fell asleep and the first word I thought when I awoke.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. It's also the anniversary of a time when I debated the merits of the war, while carefully navigating the mine field of precisely chosen words so I could maintain my beliefs without dishonoring  my son. It was possible to fiercely love and defend the troops, but loathe the war.

That's because, as a mother of  Marine, the point wasn't whether I agreed with the war, or even whether the troops agreed. The point was the respect I felt for these young, earnest men and women who gave up their lives to serve their country, knowing full well their lives might be cut short.

Even so, that realization didn't change my fantasy that I could ship the leaders responsible for the war- mistakes were made - directly to the front lines. There, they could take their rightful positions on the tip of the combat spear, rather than a bunch of kids barely out of high school.

I was one pissed-off, terrified mother.

Marine Corps buddies, Tony Belot, left, and Joshua Domke spent time together in Redding recently.

A decade has passed. It's a moot point to argue about the war now.  It won't bring back the almost 4,500 dead troops, or scores of dead Iraqis. It won't reattach limbs or repair brains or restore normal sleep or cure PTSD or bring peace of mind to homeless veterans.

What happened in Iraq with Josh and his buddies - those are their stories; not mine to tell. As is true of most combat veterans, the horrific stories are locked away somewhere -  far from fodder for casual conversation - literally nightmare material.

Last night, for the first time in 10 years, I read the printed-out email correspondence Josh had written when he was aboard the USS Anchorage heading for Iraq. In those emails, Josh tells me to not worry. He assures me he'll be fine, and says yes, he's anxious, but not scared.

In one of his final emails, Josh thanks me for ginger snaps I'd sent, and said he'd shared them with his guys, who liked them, too. Which led to this:

"I have a request for you. You don't have to do it, but I'm sure you will," Josh wrote. "Instead of sending me a package or mail next time, I want you to send something to some of my guys."

Then came the list: Lance Cpl.  Paul Rodrigues; Lance Cpl. Tony Belot; Lance Cpl.  Eduardo Laroya; Lance Cpl.  Intae Kim; Lance Cpl.  Jeffery Potters, Lance Cpl.  Donovan Denny and Lance Cpl. Mike Caprasecca.

Josh said he would be OK with just a postcard, that it would mean more to him for his guys to get packages, than for him to receive any.

Josh knew me well.  I did send packages to those guys, and Josh, of course. Also, my worried-sick sisters and friends pitched in and sent care packages, too, filled with foot powder and books and jerky and baby wipes and socks and cookies. Quite the project.

How could I have not seen then, what is suddenly so clear to me now? Was it just an innocent request, or was Josh's assignment a deliberate distraction?  Either way, Josh's request forced me to expand my love and maternal angst beyond just Josh, and to other Marines, sons of  mothers I'd never met.

It occurs to me now that those care packages were as beneficial for the senders as the young Marine recipients.

For their sacrifice, I hold our country's feet to the fire with a reminder of our nation's responsibility to care for these young men and women who served -- and continue serving -- all over the world. To this rare and precious 1-percent of our citizens who dedicate their lives to defend our country, we owe nothing less than 100-percent of support for their service.

Josh turned 32 last week. He's working as a realtor here in Redding. He and his wife are expecting a baby girl next month. Their 2-year-old son now wears his dad's Super Josh cape.

Another generation.

Please ...

Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Prior to 2007 Chamberlain was an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, CA.

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28 Responses »

  1. This deserves a place in the national spotlight, written from the heart by a mom who knows all too well what's at stake when wars are fought. Reading the news every day, it's too easy to forget how many people have children who didn't get to come home, or how many people came home broken.

    Please, more generations indeed. Well said Doni.

  2. Well written Doni, our country has all too often forgotten and abandoned our soldiers, sailors and airmen after the conflicts have ended. Yes many are volunteers, but the answered the call of duty and went in harms way. Many thanks to all veterans, we owe all of them a great debt that can never be paid.

  3. This is a wonderful reminder of the soldiers that have shed blood, sweat, and tears for us to be free. Great post and it brings validation for the rest of us. Thank you for that

  4. Thanks so much for this, Doni.

    I remember very well how you were pilloried by the local trogs for your courage in speaking out in your RS column against this war, and how much I respected you for it then -- and still do now.

    Until people speak out louder and louder, our toxic culture of endless war will continue, and more innocents on both sides will be slaughtered. Not to protect any freedom, but to feed the monster that President Eisenhower (hardly a bleeding-heart liberal) so presciently warned us about more than half a decade ago: the military industrial war complex. (Now, tragically, we must add a "corporate" in that adjective salad.)

    Brava.

    • Thank you Josh and all the woman and men that served in desire to defend our country… and most importantly, the 4000 dead, the hundreds of thousands wounded, their mothers, families and communities. On this 10 year Iraq war anniversary, it is out of respect for the people that went to war and affected by the war that on this day, little will be said here in the NewsCafe about how the Iraq war was one of the biggest miss-guided tragedies inflected on our nation, on Iraq, and the world. Doni, as wonderful writer, gives us the gift of her experience in a kind and heartfelt way. Thank you Doni. Doni puts a very humanistic face on the thoughts and emotions she and many mothers went through during the war. We can only imagine what the mothers in Iraq are feeling and thinking and I can’t help but to believe the world would be a very different place if the mothers ruled the world. Out of respect for those that served and for fallen, I do hope that we the people of this nation seek to learn and understand how the Iraq war happened so that God forbid, we don't let the power, thinking, feelings and behavior that got Josh and so many women and men into the war.... do so again. If we do not seek, learn and act in peace personally and as a nation…. they will.

      May we all find peace.

  5. Wiping my tears....

  6. Love you, Josh!

  7. Wiping my tears, too. Amen, Doni, Amen.

  8. To Josh, and all your brothers and sisters who have served our great country, our heartfelt 'Thank You'! And to those families who raised those patriots, our 'Thank You', as well...!

  9. Your words touched my heart and soul, Doni. Thank you for saying what most of us can't begin to comprehend. Most of us are staunch supporters of our troops but taking the time to observe or listen to an individual veteran & their family members is truly an eye opening experience. I spent time recently at the VA hospital in Martinez with a friend of my dad's who needed some medical tests. He was the victim of agent orange in Vietnam & suffers a multitude of complications from that, not to mention the unspoken scars from his less than honorable homecoming. I'm pleased to say that the staff I interacted with throughout the facility were miraculous little lights who I saw bringing smiles, even fleeting glimmers of hope & compassion to veterans in various stages and worlds of hurt. My dad, 88, served in the Navy in WWII and his 66 year old friend often talk of their experiences & memories like they were yesterday, some are tragic while others are hysterically funny! They seem to have a respect and appreciation for one another that is heartwarming. It defies words, but their feelings of admiration are palpable and I always feel honored that they let me listen in.

  10. Thanks mom. I really appreciate the nice column and all your support over the years. Love ya.

    • Oh, Joshua, you are very welcome. You make it easy. xomom

    • Thank you Josh, as well as your buddies and their families, for your contribution toward making our world a safer place. For some, the words are there (inside of us) that reflect our deepest thanks...yet it sometimes takes the mix of talent and a mothers emotions to unscramble those words.

      Our best wishes for the future ahead of you and congratulations to a proud Marine and proud dad. Please give your new daughter a small pinch on the cheek.

      Welcome home.

  11. Thanks, Doni! I truly love your son and have a place in my heart for all our young men and women who serve our wonderful country all around the world. I pray for them daily. This really touched my heart. Thank you again, Doni, for putting into words what I feel for those who serve us, past and present!

  12. Thankyou. They are all patriots.

  13. Hi Josh,

    What a pleasure to see what a fine man you have become. Somewhere in my "treasures" I still have a Get Well book you (with Mom's help) made for me back when you were in Kindergarten. I admit I don't remember all the students that were with me for a year but some stand out in the memory and you are one of them.

    • Gayle, you were among our family's favorite teachers (Josh and Joe were both in your class). I remember that Josh's first day of kindergarten was also your first day of teaching.

      Someone had sent you flowers, and you were so completely wrapped up in getting the children settled for their/and your first day, and you kind of waved to the delivery person to just set the flowers down .. no time to ooh and ahh over them. Cracked me up.

      Your peaceful nature, your kind heart, your love of music and of children came through loud and clear. Thank you for your service as an educator! Teachers like you make a difference in children's and families' lives.

  14. I really MUST learn to NOT read a column of this sort first thing in the morning! Especially one that you write. It totally smears the mascara I haven't even applied yet!

    Kidding aside, this column reminded of a conversation my brother and mother had shortly after his return from Europe in WWII. Mom said, "Vyrll, do you know I prayed for every day your were overseas?" To which he replied, "Mom, do you know I prayed for me ever day I was overseas?"

    I so agree with your premiss that supporting our troops should not be confused with supporting or even agreeing with the war. I so honor each and every family that has made the sacrifice to support the commitment of their family member.

  15. Thanks Doni for your wonderful words. Although my son was not in Iraq or Afganistan he was in Kuwait and for my wife and me, from the stories we have heard, it was not far enough away from the madness. Your story brought back some of those memories of an emptiness I felt and having no controll of the situation. I count my blessing daily that he returned home physically fit. It took him a while to adjust but he is doing well now. I am so glad to hear that Josh is doing well also. Tell him, from an old teacher of his when he was at Shasta who enjoys still hearing about him, that I said Hello.

  16. Doni,

    An excellent column by an excellent writer. Thanks to you and to Josh for his service to our country. I'm sure if our politicians had to serve they might hold off on getting us into wars.

  17. Thank you, Doni. I remember when I was concerned you would actually go to pieces, but God did bring you through it, and your Josh, also.

    Blessed be God.

    Love, Ginny

    • Oh, thank you, Ginny. I think part of living is enduring things that one might think would make us "go to pieces" ... but it's amazing what people can survive, and sometimes, as you have, with Chuck's Hats, actually turn your loss into something that helps others.

  18. Great story Doni,

    I followed you all through your years with the local newspaper. I especially loved the stories when Josh was in the service. I could hear the passion in your voice each time you wrote about him and his buddies. I remember thinking how wonderful it was that you were sending useful items over for their comfort. I also recall that many of the soldiers did not have things they needed ....for some reason the military did not provide. Wasn't there a drive by someone here in Redding who was trying to raise money to buy bullet proof vests the troops needed? Was that you? It seems like so long ago.

    I'm sure Josh felt your strength coming to him and your prayers worked!

  19. Doni,

    This is such a good story, with a happy ending. Thanks for writing it.

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