August 15, 2003

First Person:

A Tale of Two Sons

One’s going to Hawaii to get married; the other’s going to Iraq

By Abelardo de la Peña Jr

Today, two of my sons take off on life-changing journeys.

Joshua will fly to Hawaii, where he and his long-time girlfriend Lin will be married on the shores of Maui.

Michael will fly to Iraq.

I am extremely happy for Joshua. It hasn’t been an easy journey for him. He joined our family when he was 14, a friend of my two sons. He had for all intents and purposes been abandoned by his mother and was drifting towards trouble. Of course, even after he moved in, he managed to find it every now and then, but with our support and his mighty efforts, he has since found a good life for himself, one that he’ll be sharing with the woman he loves.

Michael, too, took a while to find happiness. He left home right after high school, spent some time in the Army, got married and divorced and finally last year he found a woman who really understood him and helped him to flourish. When they found out she was going to have a baby, they were ecstatic, as were we.

Then he did an extremely puzzling thing...he re-enlisted.

His explanation was that he hadn’t established a career, and going back in for training as a medic would allow him to learn a skill that he could take advantage of when he was discharged. Plus, the benefits of being in the service, particularly the medical benefits, would help his young family. They in fact did, as his wife Felica was bedridden for almost a month before Valentina was born, prematurely.

But at the time of his re-enlistment, President George Bush and his administration were talking tough on Iraq, stating their case for preemptive war. You remember: weapons of mass destruction, 45 minutes to launch missiles filled with chemical and biological weapons, solid links to terrorist activities....

I tried to talk him out of it, but he persisted. And, really, what could I honestly say? I enlisted in the Army when he was a baby, at the height of the Viet Nam War. I came out of it alive.

Michael’s done very well since he’s been back in. In basic training, as an older soldier surrounded by young recruits, he was seen — rightly so — as a leader, and given lots of responsibility. In his training as a medic he also excelled.

Michael fulfilled a life-long dream of going Airborne, jumping out of an airplane fully loaded. And he was also selected for Ranger School, although he dropped out in the initial phase of the training when he realized that it would keep him apart from his wife and child for a longer time than either one of them wanted.

What he never expected was to be sent to a war zone, for the second time. You see, he saw action in Kuwait in the first Gulf War.

Now, he’s joining a couple hundred thousand of our men and women who are paying the price of foreign policy gone mad. Every day we hear of more soldiers dying and wounded, months after Bush declared an end to war. Every day, we hear of angry Iraqis whose lives are much worse because of U.S. involvement, along with further instability in the Mid East.

Of course, we are hearing less and less of those weapons of mass destruction, links to Al Queda, of how Iraq was a threat to our country. We know now of lies, miscalculations, and insufficient evidence. And we are deep in a quamire that will continue to impact the lives of many families, there and here.

Yes, I am angry. And yes, I am worried.

But I can only hope and pray that my two sons return safely.

With Joshua, the odds are a lot better. As for Michael, I want him to stay safe and come back intact, physically, spiritually and emotionally.

I love them both.

Abelardo de la Peña Jr. is el editor de

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