Friends, Freedom, and Fallen Heroes
I cannot even begin to know the pain that each mother, each wife, and each child experiences when a son, a husband, a father is lost in this war. How do you react when a car pulls up in your driveway and you receive notification that a loved one will not be coming home? It gives me great pain and I tear up trying to wrap my brain around it, but I've been fortunate not to have faced this loss due to war. My friends have not been so fortunate.
I have a number of friends who have children fighting in this war and their worry is great and their prayers are powerful. I have a high school friend, Helene Hatzes Paci, whose son, Tony, has been fighting the war in Afghanistan. He lost his life on March 4th in Afghanistan. I believe that Tony knew the risks when he decided to fight for our country, our freedoms, and the freedoms of all nations. He made the greatest sacrifice so that others, all of us, complete strangers, and his children and family, could continue to enjoy the freedoms we hold dear.
When I look at this picture of Tony, I see Helene. I see her smile and her eyes. I have not seen Helene since high school - and that was 32 years ago, yet if you were to see her high school picture, you would see Tony. We had a number of classes together and the one thing I remember most about Helene was her sense of humor. I'll bet Tony had that same sense of humor.
Life really is amazing when you think about it. When you're in high school, you don't glance over to your classmates or your friends and think "I wonder what life holds in store for them?" We all eventually have our crosses to bear. But this is the ultimate loss - I believe - the loss of a child, for any reason. Still, Tony had a dangerous mission and he did his job with courage. He will not be forgotten. He is a hero.
When I look back on the last 32 years of my life since I graduated from high school, I could never have believed the adventure that laid before me. It has been a roller coaster, this life, and yet, while I dig my nails into the seat restraint, I pray that none of my children fall out. I pray they hold on and take this ride with me up every mountain, down every river, and over every cliff. So how do you continue the roller coaster ride when someone so close to your heart exits or falls off the ride we call life? With great inner turmoil and pain and grief beyond measure. My heart breaks for Helene, Erica, Tony's & Erica's babies, and the extended family and friends.
Helene recently wrote on her Facebook page:
This past Saturday, Helene wrote:
I can't even begin to to understand the universe right now, but what I do know is that I am blessed to be surrounded by God"s love through every single family member and friend that has expressed their sorrow for me and my family. I love you all sooooo much
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We love you too, Helene. We love Tony, Erica, and all those beautiful grandbabies too. You are in our prayers and our deepest thoughts.
Tony had an interesting story of love, and his story was shared in the Washington Post:
Family mourns Bethesda native killed in Afghanistan
Monday, March 8, 2010
Anthony Paci met his wife in cyberspace while he was on duty in Iraq, and during six months of e-mails, phone conversations and Skype calls, they fell in love. When Mother's Day rolled around, his gift was a spa day that would bring together, for the first time, his sweetheart, her mother and his mother. "He knew then that this was it, and that was how he arranged for us to meet," his mother, Helene, recalled.
Soon there was an engagement across the miles, then a wedding two days after Paci, an Army specialist who grew up in Bethesda, returned from the war zone and embraced Erica O'Beirne. It was all part of what his mother recalls as "a fairy-tale relationship" between two people who "just totally got each other."
On Sunday, Paci's mother and other relatives gathered around his wife near Tacoma, Wash., to mourn the loss of the dedicated soldier and family man, who was killed Thursday in Afghanistan at the age of 30. He was a father of three: Judah, 2 1/2 , Tallulah, 1 1/2 , and Mila, 3 months.
Paci was killed on his mother's 51st birthday in what military officials described as a vehicle rollover. Family members said they were told the crash happened after Paci, who was in the top position on a fast-moving Stryker in Gereshk, Afghanistan, yelled for his driver to swerve to avoid hitting an oncoming car filled with a family of Afghan civilians.
Helene Paci said that an Army general told the family that her son had done everything by the book in the crash that took his life. "He told us our son was a hero," she said.
On Sunday, Helene Paci looked back on her son's life, which recently revolved around his assignment to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. "He loved his job," she said. "He hated to leave his wife and kids, but he loved his job."
Paci grew up playing combat video games that might have foreshadowed his career, but he arrived in the Army much later, at age 24, inspired partly by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and by the Marines who frequented the District restaurant where he was working as a waiter.
Helene Paci said that her son admired the camaraderie and trust among the Marines he got to know. "It sparked this desire to want to be in the military," she said.
Paci was born the day his great-grandfather died. "He left for boot camp on our wedding anniversary," Helene Paci recalls, a glint of humor penetrating the heartbreak. "He had a knack for doing things so we remembered them."
The son of a businessman and a longtime cashier and office assistant at Giant, Paci had attended Walt Whitman High School but left a month before graduation in 1997 and later earned a GED.
In the Army, he was a mortarman by training and served in Iraq for a year, from late 2005 to late 2006, marrying his wife upon his return to Fort Hood and taking joy in his children. "He was superdad," his mother said. "He loved his babies."
The youngest of his brood was born Nov. 29, and Paci came back for a two-week visit in December. He arrived in New Jersey, where his wife was staying with her mother temporarily. And when the December snows in Washington kept some people from traveling, Paci and his wife climbed in their car and drove to his childhood home in the Glen Echo Heights section of Bethesda.
"He said, 'Mom, I don't care how many inches of snow are on the ground,' " she recalled.
As she talked by phone, surrounded by her son's children, Helene Paci noted that they will still hear the sound of their father's voice in the "daddy dolls" they took to bed while he was in Afghanistan. The cloth dolls were made using Paci's photograph and when squeezed include his recorded voice. His eldest daughter's says: "I love you, and I miss you very much, and I can't wait to come home and see you and give you hugs and kisses."
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I would just like to say to all of those mothers and wives and children out there who have a loved one in Iraq and Afghanistan - you have our prayers and our deepest gratitude and I pray they all come home safely, alive, and in one piece.
To Helene - there are no words. But I do have a song: (Just click on the image)
Song "What Else Can I Do" written and performed by dear friend and artist, Karla Anderson.