January 14, 2008 | Other News
Standing strong on the home front
Sunday, January 13th 2008, 4:00 AM
Sue Mori feels irresistibly drawn to opening the door and looking in on the son she gave birth to 22 years ago. “It’s a picture I want to see – John, comfortable in his own bed, at home, safe,” she says.
Tricia D’Agostino is gearing up to care for two children, Emma, 4, and Thomas, only 12 days old, while managing a home and a job alone.
Jim Nicholson lives with a knot in his stomach and a lump in his throat, the first brought by fear, the second produced by pride in his 22-year-old son Thomas.
What unites the three and thousands of other New Yorkers right now is that they have sons, husbands, brothers and fathers who this week will deploy on active duty, bound for Afghanistan in the New York National Guard. Mori’s boy Spec. John Johnstone, Cpl. Steven D’Agostino and Spec. Thomas Nicholson are going as members of the legendary Fighting 69th.
Roughly 1,200 New Yorkers will be joining America’s “other war.” They have been leaving civilian jobs, packing duffels and, in the description of family members, beginning to detach.
Family men are becoming soldiers.
Deployment ceremonies on Wednesday will mark the end of the transformation, and then the citizen warriors will be on their way for a year’s stint in an operation called Task Force Phoenix.
The Fighting 69th will be saluted in assemblies in Manhattan and on Long Island. And saluted they must be because they belong to the very tiny minority of Americans who have volunteered in the national service. Infantrymen, they have chosen to put their lives on the line.
Many of these men worked in the ruins of the World Trade Center and then fought in Iraq. Sue Mori’s young son is one of those headed toward his second battlefield. It was on 9/11, when he was 16, that John became determined to enlist. A year and a half later, Sue recalled, “I signed the permission papers, through tears,” enabling him to join up.
John drove a Stryker armored vehicle, suffered ear damage in a bombing and, when his Iraq tour was over, joined the 69th. Now his mother says: “I have to trust his friends and his training to be able to go forward. And, of course, prayer helps.”
She speaks for many. Behind each soldier is a family doing more than its share. Each will lose a pillar of their lives to hostile territory halfway around the world. More than a few will suffer financially. And, to America’s shame, there will be little recognition and even less thanks.
“People don’t understand the sacrifices that we go through,” said Cpl. D’Agostino, 38, not as a complaint but as a statement of all-too-true fact.
A Marine gunner in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, D’Agostino reenlisted after losing four friends – city firefighters – on 9/11 and one friend in Iraq. His wife, Tricia; daughter, Emma, and newborn, Thomas, will now make do on military pay rather than his income as an information technology manager.
Beth Delli-Pizzi, wife of Lt. Lou Delli-Pizzi, knows what’s happening on the home front. She has taken a leave from her career as an immigration lawyer to head a family support group.
There was the soldier with a baby who had lost a job and needed groceries. There was the soldier whose mortgage was overdue because his military pay hadn’t come through. There are two-income couples who had split child care, one working days and the other at night, and now the wives are struggling to make new arrangements. There are the two pregnant wives who are prone to tears.
There is fear. And there is resolve.
“This is what he always wanted to do, so I support him,” said Sophia Vansluytman, wife of Cpl. Elvis Vansluytman, 29, an office manager who emigrated from Guyana in 2001, watched 9/11 on TV two days after the birth of his son Bryan, joined the 69th and set off for Iraq as quickly as he could as a volunteer.
“He always said he would rather die a hero than at a desk job,” Sophia added.
As the time grows short, emotions are rising. In the Delli-Pizzi house, Beth; Maggie, 9, and Jack, who is turning 4, are preparing for Lou’s departure. Maggie has grown quieter while Jack got out flour, eggs and sprinkles for a cake for all the soldiers. Beth senses a coming emptiness. “In the end, you are going to be alone,” she said. “The kids will be in bed and you are a single parent.”
She knows – they all know – that Lou is answering a deeply felt call. A veteran NYPD firearms detective, he did rescue and recovery at Ground Zero and decided to enlist. It took a couple of years to persuade the military to accept a man then in his mid-30s.
Lou did basic training at 38 and secured waivers for the infantry and for airborne duty. Now, at 41, he’s going to Afghanistan. And Beth is behind him 100%, a brave citizen of an America where so few dwell.
All the 69th families live in that land apart. Bravo to all as they carry on, in Jim Nicholson’s words, with knots in their stomachs and lumps in their throats.
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