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thedrifter
05-10-09, 08:55 AM
Mother's Day wish: to see their kids safe

3 area women watch their children go off to fight a war. They worry. They pray. They write about it.

By Jim Carney
Beacon Journal staff writer

Published on Sunday, May 10, 2009

A mother's instinct is to keep her children from harm.

Sending them off to war, where danger lurks around every corner and in every passing car, contradicts that innate desire.

It is an unfathomable burden.

But when the nation calls, moms watch their brave young ones head off to fight on distant battlefields. They wave goodbye as the buses disappear from sight and pray unceasingly for their safety.

Forty-five stories of mothers who have endured those conflicting emotions have been collected in a book published this spring, Love You More Than You Know: Mothers' Stories About Sending Their Sons and Daughters to War.



Most of the stories are from Northeast Ohio moms.

On this Mother's Day, three local moms who have contributed chapters to the book tell their stories.

Dianne Berlin, Green

Mother's Day weekend couldn't have gotten off to a better start for Dianne Berlin of Green.

Saturday morning at 10:20, in a scene that had the feel of a Norman Rockwell painting, she was once again reunited with her son, Marine Lance Cpl. Eric Berlin, home from his second tour in Iraq.

Eighteen members of his family and friends were waiting for the Marine at Akron-Canton Airport with his mother in the middle, wearing an American flag shirt,
crying, anxious and ringing her hands, a half-hour before the plane was to arrive.

When he appeared, a mass of people rushed to his side, with his mother, leading the way.

Not only was Saturday her 22nd wedding anniversary, it was also the start of a Mother's Day celebration.

''This is my best present ever!'' she said as she wrapped her arms around her 6-foot 5-inch tall Marine.

''I missed you,'' she told him. ''It feels good.''

Now, she said, ''we can take him home.''

Finally, the mother was together again with her youngest child.

''He is my baby,'' said Berlin, who also has two older daughters.

''It is so hard. I thought it would be easier the second time, but it was worse.''

Eric Berlin left for boot camp at Parris Island, S.C., four days after turning 18, following graduation from Green High School in 2006.

Eric's father, Fred Berlin, was a Marine who served in Vietnam, and Eric followed in his dad's footsteps.

His parents didn't know he had committed to the Marines until a few days before he graduated from high school, and they told him he couldn't go until he was 18. The following September, four days after his birthday, he was gone.

The hardest part of being a mother of a Marine at war, she said, has been enduring the lengthy periods when she didn't know his whereabouts.

''You wake up a lot at night and you wonder what they are doing,'' she said. ''Sometime you wake up and you can't catch your breath. You are thinking, 'What's going on with my son right now?'

''He would go out on missions for three weeks and for three weeks I would hear nothing.''

The first time her son returned from Iraq, she thought he had missed his flight as she waited for him at the airport.

''I screamed his name,'' she said.

While he is home in Ohio, she said, she plans on spending as much time with him as she can.

The family has been told the 20-year-old Marine may be deployed a third time before his enlistment is up next year.

His mother, a senior account representative for Summa Health System, said her son wants to go to college and become a firefighter.

Her family was in the news a year ago in Beacon Journal stories about the creation of the Airfare Assistance Fund, a charity run by New Covenant Community Church in Akron to help pay for flights home for military personnel.

The lesson she has learned through her son's two tours in Iraq is to trust in God.

''It doesn't matter where they are, God has to put his arms around them and keep them safe, so I pray every night that God puts his arms around him and keeps him safe and brings him home to me,'' she said.

Her prayer was answered on Saturday.

Karen Phelps, Akron



Karen Phelps of Akron watched her daughter as she slept when she was a baby.

She watched her to make sure she was breathing, alive and well.

This Mother's Day, she is visiting her daughter, Air Force Maj. Jennifer ''Jen'' Phelps, at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, and she will watch her only child sleep once more.

Phelps graduated from Akron East High School and had appointments to West Point, the Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy. She chose the Air Force, where she received a degree in environmental engineering. She has served overseas seven years, including one tour in Iraq.

Her mother, 56, who worked as a florist for many years, lives in Akron, with her husband, Gale.

Her daughter left for the Air Force Academy at age 17 and is now 32 years old.

''I've been at this game a long time,'' Phelps said.

Her daughter, she said, is smart and well-trained.

''She runs marathons,'' she said. ''She is an all-around person.''

When she calls home, Phelps and her husband put the call on a speaker phone so they can both talk.

Karen Phelps' faith in God was important during her daughter's tour in Iraq.

''I pray every day,'' she said.

And just as she did when her daughter was an infant, when she is with her now, as an adult, she checks at night to make sure she is safe.

''I just watch her sleep,'' she said.

''Just like when you were the mom and you would look sideways to see if her chest was going up and down when she was a baby.''

Her daughter, she said, is not just her oldest, middle and youngest child; she is so much more.

''She is everything,'' Phelps said.

Mary Anne Mayer, Medina

Mary Anne Mayer of Medina will never forget the day her son, Marine Sgt. Stan M. Mayer, left for war.

''I remember it like it was yesterday,'' she said. ''It was a bleak January cold day, slushy, gray skies.''

He was leaving for Iraq with a large group of Marine Reservists with 3rd Battalion 25th Marine Regiment.



''You put on your game face and you bring your flags and signs and then the buses drive away,'' she said.

The hardest part is the parting embrace.

''You kiss them goodbye and the buses are out of view and you are standing there on the slushiest road in Brook Park with these other parents and you are hugging each other and you don't know these people.''

Mayer, 59, is co-editor of the book of mothers' essays with her Ursuline College classmate Janie Reinart.

In August 2005, Mayer, a teacher at St. Francis Xavier School, read an article by Reinart in the Catholic Digest publication about a prayer service for her own son, Sgt. Joseph Reinart, 28, an Ohio Army National Guardsman who served in Iraq for much of 2004.

She hadn't seen or spoken to her old friend since the two graduated from college in 1972.

Mayer called Reinart and they talked about their common bond.

Reinart, a freelance writer from Chagrin Falls, suggested they work on a book about what they had experienced.

Over 21/2 years, they collected stories from other mothers of servicemen and women.

Mayer's story is particularly compelling.

On Mother's Day 2005, her son called from Iraq to wish her happy Mother's Day.

Then he asked to speak with his father, Stan E. Mayer, an Army veteran, and told him that he had been wounded when his Humvee was hit by a suicide bomber. Two of his comrades in the vehicle died.

The Marine suffered burns in the attack but was back with his unit in a week.

In the end, Mayer was one of the fortunate ones.

During that seven-month tour in Iraq in 2005, 48 Marines and sailors that were part of the deployment were killed, including 15 who were assigned to Akron's Weapons Company.

Mary Anne Mayer said that during her son's deployment, she went to Mass every day and her prayer life increased.

She learned to not get upset by little things. ''Even big things don't upset me that much now,'' she said.

''I don't take freedom for granted.''

Her 27-year-old son remains on active duty and is part of a Marine liaison unit out of the National Naval Medical Center at Bethesda, Md.

She said she will always remember that day in January 2005 when her son left with his fellow Marines.

''In the back of your mind your worry is, will you ever see them again?'' she said.

Jim Carney can be reached at 330-996-3576 or jcarney@thebeaconjournal.com.

Ellie