Saturday, July 19, 2003

Mother's wish fulfilled: Both sons come home



By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Debbie Griffith's son Brian, 22, a U.S. Marine with the 2nd Radio Battalion, is on leave after serving in Iraq.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
GOSHEN TOWNSHIP - When a young Marine, Brian Griffith, left his home here in January for what would turn out to be a combat tour of duty in Iraq, he and his mother, Debbie, sat down for what she called "the Private Ryan" talk.

Another son, 25-year-old Steve Griffith, was already leaving Camp Pendleton in California to be shipped to Kuwait and an eventual mission into Iraq with the 11th Marine Division.

Their mother recalled the movie Saving Private Ryan, about how the Army had to send a patrol of battle-weary soldiers back to the front lines to find a young World War II soldier after his three brothers died in combat.

"We talked about having both of them over there and in danger," said Mrs. Griffith, sitting in the living room of the family's home in a brand-new subdivision.

"The idea of maybe losing both sons was more than I could take."

It was a talk that, in the end, was not necessary.

Both sons returned to the States unhurt - Brian for a leave back home that ends next week, when he reports back to his unit at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; and Steve back to Camp Pendleton to rejoin his wife and wait for the birth of their first child and his discharge from the Marine Corps.

Both come back with memories of firefights, wounded comrades and a strange land where masses of people who live in extreme poverty greeted them as liberators.

Brian Griffith was not sure what kind of reception he would receive when he was finally back on American soil.

"We didn't get much news from back home, but it seemed like everything we did see was about people in America protesting the war," said Griffith, whose Task Force Tarawa was engaged in combat with Iraqi forces in southern Iraq and later worked on getting humanitarian aid to the Iraqi people.

"I'm over there thinking that I am going to get back home and that it would be like it was in Vietnam - people calling me a baby killer," Griffith said.

But, in fact, there were people back home - people he never met - who supported him and cared about him. His mother joined the Military Support Group, an organization of parents of active-duty military that formed last year in the middle of the U.S. military campaign in Afghanistan, meeting once a month in Blue Ash.

"Being part of that group meant a lot to me when the boys were over there," she said. "It helped me to be able to talk to people who understood what I was going through."

Even now, it is hard for her to imagine what her sons experienced in Iraq.

Brian Griffith has images burned into his memory - like the one of an Iraqi he met who had been shot in the face by Saddam loyalists because he had cooperated with U.S. forces.

"You see that, and you realize just how brutal this regime was," Griffith said.

There are good memories, too, like the two little Iraqi boys in An Nasiryah who used to hang around the Marines and keep them entertained.

And he will remember the extreme poverty.

"We'd share our MREs (meals-ready-to-eat) with them," Griffith said. "When we pulled out to come home, Marines were throwing whole boxes of MREs into crowds of Iraqis. They'd take them home and share them with their families."

Griffith has two more years to serve on his contract with the Marines. He understands that within those two years he could be called to serve overseas in combat again.

"I don't know what will happen next," he said, sitting on his mother's living room couch. "It will be hard to top this, though."

E-mail hwilkinson@enquirer.com




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