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How does a relationship change between a mother and her son when he goes off to war? And then how do they communicate about what he saw and experienced after he returns from the battlefield a changed man?
Sue Diaz, a writer and essayist for Newsweek and The Christian Science Monitor, details how her family experienced both the deployment and return of her son Roman from two tours of duty in Iraq in a new memoir, Minefields of the Heart.
Diaz recounts what it was like to experience the day-by-day horrors of war from the home front, as well as the emotions she felt when her son first told her that he was joining the infantry -- and when she received news that he had been injured in an IED explosion.
She tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that communicating with her son, who is normally a reserved person, was made even more difficult by news blackouts and by Roman's trying to protect his family from knowing what took place on the battlefield.
"At one point he said, 'Mom, I wish you didn't know about these things. Some horrible stuff goes on here and you don't need to know about it or for anyone to associate it with you,' " she explains. "He wanted to protect us from what he was experiencing."
Sue Diaz is a journalist and essayist who has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, Reader's Digest and The Christian Science Monitor.
On receiving a phone call about an IED explosion while Roman was deployed
"It was two days before Christmas and the phone rang. It was early in the morning. A voice asked, 'Is this Susan Diaz?' And I thought it was a telemarketer. It had that kind of formality to it. And then the voice said, 'This is Capt. Candrian of the 101st Airborne and there's been an incident. Your son has been involved in an IED explosion.' And then he said, 'Are you familiar with the term IED?' And I thought, 'Yeah.' I mean those three letters were as familiar to me as PTA used to be. And he went on to say that [Roman] wasn't injured seriously. That he had suffered some wounds and was being patched up at the aid station. ... There were two soldiers that were lost in that. I remember at the time writing down the name of the place ... and being very focused and meticulous about taking notes about this, as if that would somehow make right what I was hearing."
On not learning about the danger her son was in until after he came home
"On some level, anyone who has someone in a combat zone -- in some deep corner of your heart -- you know the kind of danger that they're in. ... There were deaths reported in the newspapers and I didn't know exactly how bad it was. We did get a letter from him. ... He said, 'We're out here, kind of away from things. We have our food dropped off by helicopters. We're out here on our own.' I remember reading that at that time and thinking, 'Oh, they're in some remote area where they're keeping an eye on a distant border and that's why a helicopter is dropping things off.' So I fooled myself into thinking that indicated that they were in a safe place. But as it turns out, the reason the helicopter was dropping things off is because the roads around that area were deemed too dangerous for supply trucks to travel -- and these were the roads that every single day, they got in the Humvees to go in patrol [and] they walked."
On seeing Roman when he returned from his final tour
"It was wonderful. We flew to Fort Campbell, Ky., from California to be there when the plane landed when his unit finally came home. I remember sitting in the big cavernous hangar, and the door opening, and the sunlight behind the men, and them marching in, and the place erupting in pure joy to see them. They march in front of you and you're in the bleachers and you can't touch them, you can't throw your arms around them yet. I remember Roman looking up and seeing us and we're waving and his eyebrows lifting, and it's a moment that a parent or anyone in that situation never forgets."