Veterans Day, a reminder of a shared sacrifice
Veterans Day is a day set aside to thank and honor those who served honorably in the military, living and dead, in wartime and peacetime. As observances are held around the nation on Saturday, thoughts and prayers will turn to military men and women wherever they are stationed, whether in the United States, in war torn Iraq and Afghanistan, or other countries around the world.
Veterans Day also is a time for remembering that for every serviceman and servicewoman deployed, there is a ripple effect in the community left behind, an absence keenly felt and a sacrifice shared by spouses, children, relatives, friends, co-workers, and employers.
Among the Island community are many who share in the support of those who serve. Wives such as Julie Meader of Tisbury and Allyson Reed of West Tisbury have experienced first hand the challenges of taking over their husband's roles, managing households and caring for children single-handedly in their husbands' absence.
Felicia, Muriel and Sgt. Richard Monaco (left to right). File photo by Janet Hefler
When her husband Jared left in March 2003 for Iraq to serve as a sergeant in the Massachusetts National Guard, Mrs. Meader said the first two weeks were "like a shock to the system."
"The hardest adjustment was having to shoulder every single responsibility that you would normally share between the two of you," Mrs. Meader said. "You quickly find a routine and get used to it that way."
Family members on Island and Sgt. Meader's co-workers in the Dukes County Sheriff's Department also provided help and support.
Ms. Reed coped with her husband Tom Rancich's six-month deployments throughout his 20-year Navy career in similar fashion. "If you didn't stay busy, you would sit around and start to worry more," she said. Her children, volunteer work, and a job kept her busy, and she enjoyed a support system of friends and members of the special forces community.
In addition to dealing with their own worries and concerns about their husbands, both Ms. Reed and Mrs. Meader focused on keeping everyday life on an even keel for their children and allaying their anxieties.
Jared Meader was deployed to Iraq when daughter Hailey was three years old and son Hunter one. "I could never tell Jared that I was scared or let the kids see me break down and cry," Mrs. Meader said. "I wanted them to think that mommy was fine."
When Hailey struggled with missing her dad, Mrs. Meader helped her write a book about him and about what she was feeling, which they read together often.
Even at Hunter's young age, he became the "man of the house," locking the front door and helping to feed the dog and take out the trash.
Ms. Reed said her sons Gage and Blair, now 12 and 15, seemed affected by their father's absence more as they grew older. "I couldn't really be Mom and Dad, but I had to be. You don't worry about the laundry and the house," she said. "For myself, it was very easy to prioritize when I knew I needed to be more attentive to my children at those times."
Gage and Blair Rancich with their mother, Allyson Reed (left to right). Photo courtesy of Allyson Reed
Ms. Reed also insulated her sons from media overload. When Mr. Rancich, a Navy SEAL, was deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, "I cut the cable," she said. "I listened to the television in the kitchen when the boys were at school, and would read positive e-mails to them from their Dad so they were pretty comfortable with what they were being told."
However, no one filtered the news for Ms. Reed. After Mr. Rancich was in a helicopter crash in 1996, she said every time she heard a news report about any similar events, she would tense up until she heard the names of the accident victims identified. "You deal with it at the time, but even now, whenever I hear about a helicopter crash, it's like touching a raw nerve," she said.
As much as it was an adjustment when their husbands left, so were their homecomings, both wives recalled. On Mr. Meader's return, his children's emotional turmoil surfaced. Hunter warily eyed him as a stranger who suddenly appeared after being gone half his life.
"When I first came home and was hugging Julie, Hunter said, don't you touch my Mommy," Mr. Meader said. "It took awhile, but now we're best friends." Hailey cried the first time he put his uniform on to go back to work at the Sheriff's department, fearing he was going away again for a long time.
The toll that long deployments take on today's military families concerns Ms. Reed, whose husband retired from the Navy 14 months ago. "As far as my experience in dealing with a six-month separation, which is so hard on a family, I can't imagine what the long deployments now of 14 and 18 months are doing to families," she said.
Lt. Cdr. Tom Rancich, USN (Ret.) File Photo by Ralph Stewart
In addition to enduring long separations, the families of soldiers such as Richard Monaco of Oak Bluffs, a first sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserves, must face the possibility of them being recalled.
"I'll probably end up going one more time," said Mr. Monaco, who returned home on August 29 after a year in Iraq. Being prepared for the possibility of him leaving again at anytime is especially hard for his wife Muriel and 12-year-old daughter Felicia, he said.
Another deployment also will pose a hardship for his employer, Alan Wilson, owner of Island Tire and Auto Service in Tisbury. Federal law requires that he keep Mr. Monaco's job open for him and give him the same position when he returns.
"Richard never knows from one moment to the next if it will be 48 hours' notice or six months' notice," said Mr. Wilson. "The whole time, he's got his bags packed and ready to go, thinking he's going to be going at any time. He's home now - we don't know for how long - we have to be as loose as he is."
With only three employees and himself, when Mr. Monaco was gone, Mr. Wilson lost one-quarter of his work force. "He does all my wheel alignments," Mr. Wilson said. "The amount of work we could do was diminished a lot. We had to learn to live with less money coming in, and tell customers we couldn't get to them as quickly as they wanted to be done. You just tighten your belt and keep going."
Unfortunately, Mr. Wilson said, although some large companies pay the difference between military pay and the employee's salary, he can't afford to do that. However, he and his girlfriend Melissa Gold, who manages the company, showed their support for Mr. Monaco while he was in Iraq with weekly emails and care packages, including one that contained nylon ties and mechanics' wire for adding armament to his truck.
Siblings, mothers, fathers, and grandparents also provide another vital link in veterans' lives and share the anguish of worrying about their return. "It's not a nice way to live," said West Tisbury's Police Chief Beth Toomey, whose son Sgt. Christopher Russell served in Iraq. "It was so toxic for me. I would be fine, and then I'd get a chill running through me."
Wendy Oliver of Oak Bluffs, whose son Kevin Devine went to Iraq in 2003, lent her support both as a mother and grandmother. Her daughter-in-law Tabitha didn't want to be on her own with their three children while Kevin was gone, so they all moved in with Ms. Oliver. She put her energies into providing fun in her grandchildren's lives that would distract them from worrying about their father.
Staff Sgt. Jared Meader and wife Julie, with Hailey, 5, Savannah, 3 months, and Hunter,4 (left to right). Photo Courtesy of Jared Meader
Arthur Dickson of Tisbury, a World War II veteran, faced the painful task of seeing his grandson Sgt. Robert Dickson head off to Iraq in 2005. Remembering his own war experiences, Mr. Dickson advised him, "Robbie, there are people who will be out to kill you, but you have to kill them before they kill you." Sergeant Dickson returned safely from his tour of duty.
Many of the people in veterans' lives show their support through emails, letters, and care packages. Dukes County Veterans Agent Jo Ann Murphy urges everyone who knows of soldiers from the Island or those with Island ties to call and give her their names and addresses so she can send them letters and holiday cards.
"I know we're all high-tech, but when I was in the Service, I went to the mailbox every day, and I really looked forward to mail from home," she said. Her phone number is 508-693-6887.