December 2009 Issue
Ohio moms share the emotions that come with sending their sons and daughters to war.
Janie Reinart and Mary Anne Mayer didn’t raise their sons to be soldiers.
But when 9/11 happened, fate had other plans.
Theirs is a story of two college friends who reconnected after 30 years and, in doing so, found a way to say thank-you to their boys — as well as every other mother’s child — for risking their lives to defend our country.
The authors’ new book, Love You More Than You Know, serves as a tribute to those who, as Reinart explains, “stand in front of the flag, not behind it.”
An emotional homage, it is comprised of autobiographical essays penned by 45 Ohio mothers who poignantly share what it’s like to send a son or daughter off to war.
They are parents who are part of a sisterhood filled with stress and sleepless nights. Tears and fears.
“Our children enlist,” Mayer says softly. “We get drafted.”
Mayer and Reinart first met back in the ’70s, while both were majoring in education and theater at Ursuline College in Pepper Pike. They became inseparable, hosting late-night study sessions, working behind the scenes in campus theater productions and
attending each other’s weddings.
However, “Life happened and we lost touch,” says Mayer.
She settled in Medina and forged a career teaching eighth-grade writing, religion and art classes at St. Francis Xavier School. Mayer and her husband reared three children, including Stan, a quiet youth who had been thinking about either pursuing a career in journalism — or joining the Marine Corps.
The reality of these uncertain times ultimately made the decision for him.
“Your child doesn’t just come to you one day and say, ‘I’m going to war,’ ” Mayer says. “It’s really a journey. Stan told me that there were more reasons now than ever to sign up. When the recruiter walked into my house, I started to cry.
“But,” she adds, “you have to respect your child’s decision. It’ll tear you apart and it’ll tear them apart if you’re not behind them 100 percent.”
Distraught over Stan’s imminent
deployment, Mayer found solace through her faith. A colleague gave her a copy of Catholic Digest, featuring a prayer for those who have children serving in the armed forces.
It was written by her old college friend, Reinart.
And, sure enough, she was listed in the phone book.
The two spent an emotional afternoon reminiscing in Reinart’s Chagrin Falls home. Much to their surprise, the chums discovered they had more than college in common: Reinart’s son, Joe, was a member of the 216th Engineer Battalion of the Ohio Army National Guard. He, too, was serving in Iraq.
“Here we were talking for the first time in 30 years,” Mayer recalls, “and it was on a very gut level.”
They began sharing the thoughts and feelings only mothers of soldiers could. It was a day during which the phrase “me too” was exchanged countless times.
“When you go through this, you think you’re going a little crazy,” Mayer
says. “You wonder, ‘Is there anyone else crying in the cereal aisle at the supermarket except me?’ and ‘Is there anyone else who’s mad that every boy isn’t over there fighting?’ ”
The duo decided that if they had stories to tell, other mothers did, too.
Reinart, a free-lance writer who conducts poetry workshops, proposed the idea of compiling a book about women with offspring in the military. They
began Love You More Than You Know three years ago. The title is taken from a line from one of Joe Reinart’s letters home to his parents and four siblings.
“We created the manuscript with three goals in mind,” Reinart explains. “We wanted the writing to be therapeutic for the moms who were participating; we wanted it to be a guide for those embarking on this journey of separation from their children; and we wanted to give back to our veterans.”
The duo succeeded on all three counts.
A portion of the book’s sales will be donated to the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund, as well as to ReMIND.org, the foundation initiated by TV newsman Bob Woodruff to provide resources and support to injured service members.
As news of the project spread, stories began pouring into Reinart and Mayer’s e-mail in-boxes.
“Everybody has a story,” Mayer says. “Often, Janie and I would be editing essays on speakerphone in our respective homes. We’d weep together because these women were baring their souls, and the experience would be so intense.”
One mom was in the throes of fighting cancer as two of her sons fought insurgents: “Though I was going through tremendous pain, it was nothing like [my son and his comrades] were experiencing. They were the strong and courageous ones. … While we were singing ‘Silent Night’ on Christmas Eve in a church bathed in candlelight, Kit, we later found out, was engaged in a fierce battle for his life and those of his fellow Marines.”
Another movingly described the bond that the family’s golden retriever has with her absent son: “He waits for the day when Michael will walk back through the door. … No orders, deployments, distance or even the enemy can ever change the fact that Hank sits and waits until his master comes home.”
Not all the stories have happy endings: “Today is the eighteen-month anniversary of my beloved son Michael’s leaving this earth. I must recalibrate the form, the direction my life will take, because this blow is crushing. I am not able to separate the ‘him’ and the ‘I,’ so the secret symmetry of survival has to be forging ahead with an ancient spirit — faith — like being in a tornado with an umbrella.”
“Some boys don’t come home,” says Mayer. Her green eyes fill as she recalls her own son’s brush with death. On May 7, 2005, Stan’s Humvee was hit by a suicide bomber driving a white van filled with explosives. Although badly burned, Stan returned fire while tending to the wounded. Out of 17 men in his unit, four died that day in the western Iraq city of Haditha.
“I went to so many funerals that summer that I had no more tears left,” Mayer adds, her voice breaking. “These were all boys — not boys, men, young men — whom my son knew. And I felt that they were my sons as well. You become a mother to all of them.
“That’s the reality of war.”
Reinart and Mayer are all too aware of the fact that the current conflict in Iraq evokes images of Vietnam: an unpopular war feverishly dividing the nation.
But this time, since there is no draft, only a few truly understand the hardships involved.
“It doesn’t matter if you believe in the war or not,” Reinart says. “We just ask that you support our troops by
understanding that these young people sacrifice everything — the comfort of being with loved ones, the opportunity of going off to college with their friends — in order to protect us and the freedoms we often take for granted.”
“Our children,” adds Mayer, “have given new meaning to the patriotism of ‘America the Beautiful.’ ”