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Cost of freedom: Families sacrifice as loved ones serve

Experiences in war can damage relationships back at home

POSTED: July 5, 2014 12:30 a.m.

The iconic image of Rosie the Riveter working in factories and keeping the country’s economic engine running while young men fought overseas in World War II remains a staple of American lore.

It is a proud testament to feminism and equality. Who knows how the war might have turned out without these women producing supplies for the front lines.

Though times have changed — women, after all, are now serving in a wide range of military roles — the spirit of Rosie the Riveter remains.

With each successive war — Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq — the spouses of military veterans continue to step up and do their part.

But it’s not always easy.

“You had to make sacrifices,” said Delia Rego. “You did what you had to do.”

Rego, born in the Philippines, met her husband, Russell, while he was deployed overseas.

A Marine Corps veteran with 21 years of service, Russell Rego spent time in Vietnam during the last months of the war, leaving shortly before the fall of Saigon.

Later, he served in South Korea.

Russell Rego recalled how trying and difficult life could be for Delia while he was in the military, particularly when the two were raising young children.

Moreover, he struggled with alcohol abuse for some time.

But Delia Rego shrugs off the trials the two have faced.

“I grew up fast,” she said, adding her upbringing made her strong.

Nevertheless, Delia Rego confesses to being relieved when Russell Rego finally retired from the military. The two are now grandparents, happily settled into their lives in Hall County.

“He’s got more time for us,” she said.

Many times, America’s brave soldiers bring the war home with them, if only in their minds.

For example, 29 percent of the nearly 900,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets served by the Veterans Health Administration have been treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

PTSD is something Melanie Stirling faces every day.

Her husband, Mike, served in the Air Force in Vietnam.

But Mike Stirling’s illness has taken its toll on their marriage.

“It’s hard. It’s tough,” she said. “There’s no real communication in the marriage. It’s all rosy on the outside.”

The two are seeing a marriage counselor, and Mike Stirling is receiving treatment for his mental distress.

Melanie Stirling said she remains hopeful her husband can get better, but she knows his illness will never go away completely.

“It’s a very lonely life for the spouse,” she said. “At least it is with me.”

Will Palmer said he feels lucky he avoided the fate of some of his fellow Vietnam veterans.

A lifelong Hall County resident, Palmer served two tours in the jungles of that Southeast Asian country between 1964 and 1968, each nine months long, with the Navy Construction Battalion.

After his discharge, he met and married his wife, Shirley, whom he calls an “exceptional woman.”

Wars leave their impact on the psyche of all who fight them. Some are able to handle the fear and the memories better than others. But the change is permanent, and veterans carry it home with them.

“We’ve been through a lot,” Shirley Palmer said. “Some days are good, some are not.”


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