Sharon Tate was a young, ambitious reporter working for a struggling local newspaper. Like many recently graduated collegians, she had aspirations of moving on to national and more lucrative media. While her preference and proficiency revolved around heartwarming stories, she knew that she would have to seek out more daring, edgy tales if her resume was going to plunge her into the deeper waters of the bigger ponds at major metropolitan presses.
One week before Mother’s Day, Sharon discovered an intriguing lead that she might be able to fashion into an eye-catching combination of both homespun tenderness and gritty stress. Her editor asked her to interview the mother of three sons, all of whom were currently serving in the Marine Corps.
As a good reporter, she first familiarized herself with “The Sole Survivor Policy.” This procedure, also known as Department of Defense Directive 1315.15, describes a set of regulations in the U.S. military designed to protect members of a family from the draft during peacetime, or from hazardous duty under other circumstances, if they have already lost family members in the line of duty. Sharon was prepared to ask Mrs. Wilma O’Nelah if she was familiar with the “Special Separation Policies for Survivorship,” which exempted brothers from continuing to serve in the armed forces if their sibling had died in combat. As her interview unfolded she realized Mrs. O had no need of policies.
This was her submission hours before the Idaho Town Tattler went to press for distribution on Mother’s Day morning.
Sharon: Hello, Mrs. O’Nelah, my name is Sharon Tate and I’m writing a story for our newspaper about Mother’s Day. Could you tell us what it’s been like for you as a mother of three sons who are serving in the military? What is it like having not one, not two, but three Marines in the family all at the same time? Mrs. O: You may call me Wilma, if you like. We’re family here. We’re God-fearing and patriotic. I raised my children to look out for one another growing up which is probably why they all entered the service together. The twins were of age but I had to sign for the youngster. He always looked up to them and they have been great role models for him. I suppose you could say that they’re brothers and buddies. I’m proud of them.
Sharon: Do you worry about them? Mrs. O: Sweet Sharon (chuckling), I can tell you don’t have children. No mother would ever ask that question of another mother. We worry about our children all the time. The trick is to never let them see that side of you. The side of me I show my boys is understanding and love. I tell them I leave their safety in God’s hands. They don’t know how much I worry because they might misinterpret worry as a lack of faith. Not true. All mothers worry and all mothers have faith. When I know they’re being deployed on a dangerous mission, I worry more and pray harder. I say lots of rosaries. I pray to the Lord, but I chat with his mother. Mary knows. She was the living example of understanding and love when Jesus was growing up. When he left home, she added worry to her list of virtues. Worry is a virtue, you know. Some people think it’s a lack of virtue but they’re mistaken, at least when it comes to moms and their children. Worry is a built-in virtue for us. It’s our way of staying connected. It’s our way of being protective even when we can’t hold a hand while crossing the street, or kiss a forehead to cool a fever or leave the nightlight on to scare away the spooky shadows.
Sharon: So your boys don’t know you worry about them? Mrs. O: My sons jump out of a helicopter onto a moving, swaying ship. They don’t need a “helicopter parent” to hover over them once they’ve landed safely on the deck. We moms bring our worries to the Blessed Mother. We know she is resolved to protect them when we can’t, just as she knew her son Jesus was in God’s hands when her resolutions could no longer protect him from what had to be. You don’t really understand what I’m saying, do you dear?
Sharon: Not really, no. Can you give me something I can put into print that will help everyone understand what it’s like to be a mom of veterans on Mother’s Day? Mrs. O: Honey, I can tell you this and you can print it on the front page if you like. “We don’t leave our own behind” is a motto and a sacred oath for Marines and firefighters and a host of other brotherhoods, for sure. Those words were never spoken in this house when my children were growing up. But we certainly practiced them. Those aren’t just words to us. They are actions. They are an understanding we can all count on. They are the love we have for each other; love from the heart.
Sharon: Thank you, Mrs. O. I suppose you know that your given name, Wilma, has a Scottish origin meaning “resolute protection.” I think that describes a mother of Marines to a tee.
Let’s pray for the woman who gave us birth and who worried us into a life of understanding and love. Happy Mother’s Day to all of our resolute protectors.
Father Pagliari's monthly Holy Homework column can be found at https://www.cny.org.
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