reach out to relatives,
friends of U.S. personnel
friends of U.S. personnel
By clare MARie celano
FREEHOLD — Rosie O’Neill was praying for a miracle.
O’Neill is one of thousands of American mothers who have children serving in the armed forces that are currently fighting in Iraq. Her days are filled with anticipation and her nights are long and worrisome.
O’Neill said she found her miracle quite by accident, while going through a newspaper. Finding a letter to the editor written by Michael Burtt of Freehold Post 4374, Veterans of Foreign Wars, (VFW), O’Neill found something that hit home; support for families with loved ones in the armed services.
Burtt’s letter detailed plans to offer support group meetings, in addition to other things, such as help with errands, emergency repairs, or just a companion and friend to sit and listen.
According to Michael B. Mangini, senior vice commander of the post, the idea for the support group came together while members of the VFW were participating in another community project — a letter writing campaign to soldiers sponsored by the post and the Monmouth County 4-H.
Mangini, who served in the military in the Judge Advocate General Corps in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, remembers what it was like to be away from his family and remembers the importance of contact with those back home.
Mail time was the high point of the soldier’s day, according to Mangini and several other veterans who gathered together at the post to offer support to the families of American servicemen and servicewomen on April 3.
The letter-writing campaign just grew into the idea for some support services, according to Mangini.
"It seemed to be a logical extension to our other assistance programs," he said. "It’s our chance to do something for these families this time around."
O’Neill, who was present at the meeting held at the VFW post in Freehold, said she had been praying for someone to "connect" with, someone she could talk to, who would really be able to relate to her words and her feelings.
"We remembered how it was for our wives and our mothers when we were over there," said Frank Fatovic, a past VFW commander who served in Vietnam.
Mangini and Fatovic, along with Randy Cofski, also a past VFW commander, who served in Korea, Jim Snyder, post quartermaster, and Ed Pajor, District 6 commander of Post 4374, were in attendance to coordinate the support effort for area families.
Also attending the meeting was Ellen Williams, 4-H agent in Monmouth County. Williams organized the letter-writing campaign to United States military personnel with Mangini. The letter-writing campaign has now become one of the components of the support effort.
"Thirty-one 4-H youths and parents came to the Freehold VFW Post 4374 and wrote 135 letters to active military personnel," Williams explained. "Essentially, we were thanking the soldiers for the sacrifices they are making and for defending our freedom. It’s a great sacrifice and one not to be taken lightly."
"I think these letters will increase awareness of what it really means to be a soldier," Mangini added.
Hearing from loved ones is the only way to hold on, according to O’Neill, whose son, Brian, 31, is currently serving in the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in the Middle East.
"Before this weekend we were able to receive e-mail, but that was while he was on the ship. Now, well, no more," O’Neill sad sadly, her words trailing off as she reached for the tissues Mangini provided for her.
"Information blackouts are always the toughest," Mangini told her in a soft voice.
He knew. He understood. He’d been there. And his own family had been where O’Neill was in this moment in time and it showed.
Mangini and the other veterans in attendance were all able to exert a level of understanding and offer comfort that said, "I know what you are going through."
O’Neill inhaled it all in. Amid the tears and sadness, she said she was so glad to have found this group and these people to help her.
"You have to roll with the punches," the mother of the U.S. Marine said, trying to regroup and regain composure. "You either sink or swim. You must reach out to people."
More tears emerged as Mangini presented O’Neill with a scroll of the Marine Star. The blue star on a background of red and white satin was given to O’Neill because of her status as a family member of a person in the service.
"I am so very proud of him," she said with strained emotions as she tried to keep steady.
"The star denotes that someone has a family member in the Marines and it is only permitted to be displayed in the window of a family member in times of war," Mangini said solemnly.
Discussion of anti-war demonstrators eventually entered into the conversation. The letter sent by Burtt said, "The coverage of this conflict brings into our homes real-time reportage from Iraq, juxtaposed with pictures of protesters who defame our brothers and sisters, sons or daughters, mothers and fathers and those we hold dearest. Now is the time to support our troops and their loved ones."
The veterans spoke of how poorly they were treated upon their return from Vietnam.
O’Neill interjected that she prayed and hoped the troops serving today will be treated better when they get back.
"It hurts me so much when I see them protesting the war on television," she added.
Anyone interested in the support group effort may call Michael B. Mangini at (732) 409-3209 or the Freehold VFW Post 4374, Water-works Road, Freehold Township, at (732) 462-4896.