Full version of Rusty Griffith's letter

Kevin called from Kuwait two days before the war started saying that once they moved into Iraq, he wouldn't be able to contact us at all, maybe for months at a time. We haven't heard from him since. As parents, not knowing what he is doing or where he is, we can only fear that he is experiencing the worst of what we have been seeing on TV.

Having your own flesh and blood involved has brought our emotions to a much higher level than my wife and I would ever be experiencing otherwise. Those emotions have run from extreme lump-in-the-throat, tears-in-eyes highs to stomach-churning, sleep-challenging, fear-filled lows.

A high: Kevin told us well before graduation from high school in 2000 he wanted to join the military before going to college. Specifically, he wanted to be a Marine. Not having served in the military, this was not on the list of hopes my wife and I had for our son's future. But I realize that the military teaches invaluable lessons. It is not important Kevin can strip, clean and reassemble an M-16 faster than I can check the oil in my car. He has been taught the importance of teamwork, appreciation for discipline and willingness and ability to sacrifice physically and mentally for a greater good. I am proud of his very mature choice. Ironically, before he joined, I told him: "If this is your choice, this probably is the best time to join the military. No one seems to be mad at anyone right now."

A low: Sept. 11, 2001. How wrong I was. I knew the world changed that day. Little did I know how close that horror had hit to my home.

A high: My wife and I attended Kevin's boot camp graduation in Parris Island, S.C. For the first time, I saw part of our country's heritage that I had never been exposed to. I attended a flag-raising ceremony early one morning. I heard our national anthem played by a Marine band and watched our flag climb a mast and unfurl in the early morning sun. I was surrounded by an impressive group of young uniformed Americans all willing to sacrifice for what many Americans take for granted. I choked back a lump in my throat and hoped a tear wouldn't run down my cheek—emotions I wasn't expecting.

A low: A largo photo on the front page of our paper showing a seriously wounded Marine being carried away from a battle by his buddies. It looked just like Kevin. Alhough I realized that it couldn't be him, the resemblance was shocking. It hurt me almost as much as if it were him because I knew parents somewhere were having their hearts torn out.

A high: An interview with a Marine recovering from wounds in Germany. He said he felt bad to be away from his unit because he couldn't protect his fellow Marines the way they had protected him. Where do we get young Americans like this?

A low: Arabs convinced that Americans are intentionally targeting civilians. The Arab media, unlike ours, does not seem as interested in truth as they are in turning Arabs against Americans.

Numerous highs: Close friends and people I barely know telling me my son and his comrades are in their prayers. I can't hear that enough.

A low: The media telling me there are some U.S. citizens who believe the only heroes in this conflict are those who are killing U.S. soldiers.

Highs: Believe it or not, hearing people who disagree with our government. Americans have freedom to voice their opinions. Our son could die protecting that right. That is what makes the United States unlike any other country.

Lows: High-tech media coverage depicting the ugliness and horror of war in minute detail.

Highs: High-tech media coverage depicting the dedication, bravery, skill, compassion and professionalism of U.S. troops and their leaders in Iraq.

War is ugly, and my son's life is at risk. My son has not had the time to develop strong political convictions. He will have the time as he grows older, and I hope he will—grow older. I guess he is in the military because he has a love for our country and felt the need to give something back to it. I guess he has faith in our country, its system and leadership to make the horrible decision of when to use the power of our military. I am proud of my son and all the other sons and daughters serving with him. And I am more proud than ever to be an American.

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