The War My Parents Never Wanted

As my plane touched down in Albany last weekend, I arrived with a message for my dad: Osama Bin Laden was dead. Shot in the face by Navy SEALs. Revenge was ours. I could finally tell him our family’s sacrifice was worth it. Too bad he didn’t want to hear it.


Ten years earlier, only weeks after 9/11, my know-it-all 17 year-old self, informed my mom and dad that I was going to join the Army Reserves. I had it all figured out: graduate high school, go to basic training, come home, and enroll in community college. I would be all that I could be—and the Army would be mine. While I believed the plan was indestructible. My mom issued a warning.

“Katie, you realize what just happened, right?” she asked. “There’s a chance you could go to war.”

“Yes, mom,” I said, brushing off her comment as if she’d just asked me to take the dog for a walk.

That was my mom’s attempt to let me know that the world outside of suburbia wasn’t going to be forgiving; that war was inevitable. War, however, was not a deterrent. The word “war” itself was foreign to me. My only memory of war was at the age of six. I sat fixated on the television as the First Gulf War began. A news special captivated me, showing soldiers moving in a sea of night vision. But then my mom scooped me into her arms and turned off the TV. I didn’t know how to digest war when I had been so sheltered from it.

Almost three years later, in the late in the summer of 2004, I got a phone call while waiting tables at The Fountain in Albany. It was a sergeant from my unit in Schenectady, telling me I was being deployed to Iraq. I stood there for a minute, debating whether or not to call my parents.

“Hi Mom,” I said.

“Katie, your sergeant just called here,” she replied.

“I know, I just talked to him,” I said. “I’m being deployed with a unit from New York City.”

There was an awkward moment of silence. My plan didn’t seem so indestructible anymore. My parents were soon going to become the unwilling accomplices of my war and there was nothing I could say to reassure them that this—whatever it was we were about to be thrown into—would have a happy ending.

Six months into my deployment, as I took photographs of cheering Iraqi kids and blood-stained hospital floors for The Anaconda Times, my base’s local newspaper, a call from my mom catapulted me back into the world I had left thousands of miles away. Through her shaky voice, she mumbled the words, “Dad is in the hospital.” My then 72 year-old father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Unable to resist the temptations of alcohol, my dad relapsed, spinning into a cycle of malnutrition and feelings of worthlessness; he dropped 60 pounds and left my mom to fend for herself.

The war my mom had warned me about seemed to transcend the Atlantic. Instead of worrying about mortars and IEDs, she found herself in an empty home unsure of what would happen next. The difference was she never received any training for this. She was never told what to expect or how to deal with it. She was never told her life as she knew it would be a casualty of war.

Home wasn’t how I remembered it. My dad was now a permanent resident of a local nursing home. He was convinced I had spent the last year of my life in Germany where he was stationed during the Korean War.  When I mentioned Iraq he looked baffled, almost as if September 11 had never happened; almost as if my mom’s heartbreak wasn’t his to claim.

Deployment seemed like the gift that kept on giving. We lost our home. My mom couldn’t keep up with the payments after my dad was unable to work. I packed everything I could into cardboard boxes and watched as our bank put a lock on our front door. “Keep out” we were told. We didn’t belong here anymore.

The one thing the Army taught me was to “drive on” and that is what we did. My mom found a cozy apartment in Albany and began to put her life back together. Slowly but surely, we realized we were the lucky ones. Death had not plagued our family and we refused to give way to another tragic tale.

At the age of 27, I now wish I had issued my parents a warning. It would’ve gone something like this:

The next year or so of your life is going to suck. In fact, you’ll probably find yourselves mad at me for joining the Army. My war is your war and war is hell. . .on both fronts. There will be times when you’ll have no one else to turn to but each other. Embrace it and be thankful that at least one other person gets it. Go to therapy, you’ll need the support.

Recently, as I walked into my dad’s nursing home, I carried with me the Time magazine declaring the end of Bin Laden. I wanted him to see the big red X across Bin Laden’s face. This was my mission accomplished banner. When I opened the door to my dad’s room I blurted out, “Dad! Guess what? We killed Bin Laden.” As I flipped through the magazine pointing to photographs, I wanted to reassure him that it was all worth it. The Alzheimer’s; losing our home; watching my mom struggle without her husband. . .but he just shrugged.

I realized reassurance wasn’t what mattered. I leaned over, kissed my dad on his head and said thank you. Military parents and family are sometimes forgotten, their sacrifices during wartime ignored and support for them can be miniscule. My family, and many others, will forever be changed by the ongoing conflicts, and to them I say thank you.

Share and Enjoy:
  • Print
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Facebook
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Twitter
  • Google Bookmarks

22 Comments to “The War My Parents Never Wanted”

  1. Lisa says:

    You do realize that you joining the Army did not cause your father’s issues, right? It seems in the article that you directly blame yourself. … That’s a lot to take on.

  2. Dave says:

    Katie, first off I applaud you for joining the military. Take a lot of strength and courage to do what you did. Also I thank you for your service. No matter which course of life you chose it would not change what happen to your father. Your mother appears to be a very strong woman and with your encouragement and assistance she will do just fine. It’s a parent thing that kicks in for survival and trust me it will all work out in the wash. Make your that your there emotionally for her as she was for you as you grew up in life. Do not even consider what has happen to your dad to be a direct result of your choices in life. I know its hard to figure out but remember we here at the VA are here for you. All you have to do is ask. Take Care Brave one.

    Dave

  3. To me the article didn’t smell of self-blame at all. It was an outstanding chronology of Kate’s decisions in her young 27 years, her relationship with her parents, her willingness to serve her country, her reflections on her father’s illness and what it has done to the lives of those she loves, and her own life. She is wise beyond her age, having had to learn to cope as she trudged along. To Kate, I say Thank You for your service to this great country, and Thank You for sharing your life with America.

  4. Doc says:

    I, as an Old Marine, and father of a Marine, GWOT Veteran also Army Airborne, Afghanistan Veteran and my wife know all about what it is to NOT to know if your kids will come home, but we take it one day at a time and get though it. We prayed alot. We all thank you for your service and stand tall, you earn it.

  5. Prudence says:

    Your story is the story of all young people going off on their own in one sense, because time does not stand still for any family member. If every young person stayed home and did not go to college or marry, or go in the military that would not be right. There are some choices that we can make that make life easier for our families. When we are young and we go off on our own to accomplish our goals we have to concentrate on them or we do not accomplish them. We do not realize what is going on at home sometimes because we are having a tough time surviving ourselves and going through the stage of life we are going through, seeking to become adults. My older brothers and sisters went off to college and my family fell apart. I often wonder what would have happened if one or two of the three had stayed home to help with the younger four, which my mother parented alone. Some families stay close together and do not move apart and some travel across continents or across the world from each other. Things have to be accomplished. Each time has it’s purpose. We can not fix what went wrong. We can learn from our past to set goals and priorities for our futures. You should not be sad about your Dad. Sit with him and let him know you are there when you visit. It is not your fault about his illness. Just be a family when you can visit. Even if he get’s worse, on some level he will know you. He will know love and he will know you. Family is forever. You are so important to him. Family is healing, and you being around helps make sure he will get good care, that is a proven thing. Love him, and do not blame yourself for decisions you made. I am glad you know that there was a price to your service for your family…………but know that you did something of worth. There are horrors in that part of the world that we do not know about, and our country is seeking to challenge them. Our country is seeking to make the world safer for everyone. I talk to people who are not assured the freedom you and I enjoy, in fact they are not assured the right to live. We are in the middle east for all of our safety. I can not say I would be able to fire a rifle, but I know that God says to undue injustice in the world, and stand up for those who are being destroyed. Give it all more thought, and do not regret. What you lost was the time with your family and what your family lost was any comfort and help you were to them for the time you were away. Life goes on and we make up for lost time……….Thank God he gave you the time with your parents you have now!

  6. MaryMargaret (Maggie) Goff says:

    What a beautifully told story. I thank you, Katy, and your family. God bless you.

  7. Gary Berliner says:

    Soldier on…

  8. I almost never reply to emails.

    But, Katie, your email embodies what our country is all about.

    I’m a 72 year old Vietnam 2 tour combat aviator. West Point grad who was permitted to go Air Force after my USMA graduation in June 1962.

    God Bless your family and you.

    Duty, Honor, Country—our West Point bedrock captures what you are all about.

    Thank you for your US military service.

    Roger T McNamara, Retired USAF Colonel

  9. Brent says:

    Thank you for your service and your sacrifice.

  10. Jeff Crocket says:

    In September 1969 I was called to the CO offices in Chu Lai Vietnam. I didn’t know why and was a bit nervous.

    What I found out was chilling and so alike my days in Vietnam. The CO interviewed me asking about how my emotional situation in country was. At the end he related the story to me.

    On August 14th – my birthday – an official looking car pulled into my parents driveway with three men inside. When my mother opened the front door, there were two men in front of her, and the one said, “We have come for your son”.
    My mother was not having a good day being that i was in Vietnam for my birthday and and she had received a letter from me that day postmarked APO San Fransisco. The man quickly explained that i was a Deserter from the U.S. Army.

    My mother went berserk, and flew to the back door and dragged an FBI agent into her house. She gave them my letter and screamed that I was at war, not a deserter. My two frightened sisters cried in the background.

    It was a Pentagon mistake in my orders that brought them to the door that day, but what a day it was for those back home!! I understand this message better than most!

  11. Lynnea says:

    To kate and all of the families and friends who have experienced non-traditional casualties as a result of War, I applaud you. The unspoken pain and anguish that automatically accompanies the pride of sending a loved one off to fight should be heard! As a person who does not support war both on the battle field and in the homes of so many american’s, I send you my love. Statement well written… I am proud of you friend, you have come a long way and have proven to be a true person of character and integrity. Continue to fight on in DC while bringing the human awareness that we all need. Hats off to you and the Hoit Family.

  12. war is never give a good result for both winner or looser, we feel so sorry to your sadness :(

  13. Kevin C. Mott says:

    I Thank You for Yours and Your Families Service to Our Nation. Thank You and all like you across our world that stand a front in defense of our freedoms that we hold so dear. When Our Nation calls I’m optimistic that there will always be brave and bold souls such as yourself that answer the call. Thank You for defending our freedoms and I sympathize for yours and your families sacrifice in our Nations time of need.

    Be Proud, Kiddo…Your One of the few who can say I did something about it.

    God Bless,
    Kevin C. Mott
    Sergeant First Class (Retired)

  14. Great work as always, Kate. War always seems to be the toughest for the Moms. Just because their sons and daughters are doing something noble does not always prevent tragedy on the homefront, unfortunately.

  15. This is a smart blog. I mean it. You have so much knowledge about this issue, and so much passion. You also know how to make people rally behind it, obviously from the responses. Youve got a design here thats not too flashy, but makes a statement as big as what youre saying. Great job, indeed.

  16. Fathersy Dayer, your father yell you to do shopping on http://www.jewelry-hot.com

  17. “Military parents and family are sometimes forgotten, their sacrifices during wartime ignored and support for them can be minuscule.”

    I think they’re forgotten most of the time, tho it appears the military itself is trying to make things better for families. But what about about parents who receive the dreaded knock on the door at the crack of dawn or after they’ve retired for the night….

    Boy or boy do I identify with your situation with your father. Mine has begun the slide into — well, into what!? Who knows. Life changes for everybody when this happens. It’s terribly difficult and I’ll admit (because I know nobody in my family will see this) that I think it would be so much easier on my mother if dad weren’t still living at home. I see her taking on the burden of raising a child again at age 86. Sometimes she’s so angry I just pray I’m not in the way when she explodes. Not very nice of me, I’m embarrassed to admit. I haven’t seen her like that since we were kids. Dad knows she’s angry but doesn’t seem to realize she’s mad at him. He just tries to stay out of her way. Last time this happened I tried to make light of the situation which only made her madder – at both of us. But what happens when the day comes that he doesn’t recognize us, and is living in the Alzheimer’s unit and has a new girlfriend that he raves to mom about? How can that be less hurtful? Nope. No part of Alzheimer’s is easy.

    Your feelings for your father have been evident in photos you’ve posted before and the look on your face above is so sad. But look at your dad, with his great big smile! I hope he’s happy and that your mother is secure and happy in her new home. You’re a good daughter Kate, and I’m sure they’re both really proud of you. And me, well, I think you rock!

    ~P~

  18. Jake says:

    So pleased to have found this site/great information here I was looking for something else but so happy to find this site a great read-this is another site you might find useful on the same subject
    jewelry