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Jewish World Review Feb. 7, 2003 / 5 Adar I, 5763

Tom Purcell

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Making quiet sacrifices | We have been at battle with terrorism and may soon be at war with Iraq again. During any war we must all make sacrifices. But you don't need to explain this to Ida Ayres.

When we think of the sacrifices of war, we mostly think of the men and women who put themselves in harm's way. But what about the children, mothers, fathers, siblings and spouses who are left behind to worry and pray?

"Through four wars, I have been the daughter, sister, wife and mother of men who served their country," says Ida.

During World War I, Ida's father, Sam DiRenna, fought for the Italian army. DiRenna, who was born in a small town near Naples, was captured by the Germans and spent four years in a concentration camp. He survived by eating potato peels and garbage scraps. The German's branded his forehead - a scar he retained for the rest of his life.

Thankfully, he survived. He was declared a hero in Italy for overcoming the brutality. He eventually settled in America, in Pittsburgh. He sent for his wife. They gave birth to Ida and two sons, Angelo and Pasquale. Life was hard during the Depression years, but he had seen worse. He fought in the war to end all wars, after all, and life would only get better for his family.

But then America was thrust back into war - a war in which both sons would serve. In 1944 Angelo enlisted in the Navy. Pasquale followed in 1945. Angelo was stationed on the LST 1040 and Pasquale served on a carrier. Their letters home arrived every three or four weeks, then Angelo's letters stopped coming. Six months passed without a word. Ida was distraught, her mother barely able to function. Finally, word came that Angelo's ship had been in a typhoon. But he survived.

Both brothers returned home and the world was finally settling down. The economy grew at record rates. Ida eventually would marry and have two sons. Her husband Harry had fought in the Korea before she met him. After they married, he served another tour in Korea - as an Army major, he was lucky to survive 12 months of dangerous air missions.

But he returned home safe, and Ida's world was finally settling down again. But in 1966, her husband was called back again. This time he left his wife and two sons behind to fight in Vietnam. In one battle his best friend had both arms and legs shot off right next to him.

In 1968, Ida faced an even greater fear. Her oldest son Sam was eager to join his father in Vietnam. Fresh out of high school at 17, Sam enlisted and became a medic. The young man saw some of the worst horrors that that war produced, horrors that are with him still.

And while her husband and son risked their lives in horrific conditions, Ida was left at home doing the only things she could do: she took care of her youngest son, and she hoped and prayed.

Thankfully, both Harry and Sam survived and returned home safely. Finally, she hoped, life could get back to normal. And for the most part, life did get back to normal. The last 30 years have been a remarkable ride for all Americans. Our values and our democracy have been catching fire around the world.

And we became rich - richer than anyone could have dreamed. Through the boom years of the 1980s and 1990s, our wealth and prosperity exploded. To be sure, much of the world had finally settled down - for Ida and for everyone.

A full-fledged war may soon touch Ida again. Ida's youngest son, Lt. Col. Thomas Ayres, a JAG officer in the 18th Airborne Corps. at Ft. Bragg, N.C., has already completed a tour in Afghanistan. He'll likely support any actions that take place in Iraq, and he'll be in harm's way if he goes.

And if he goes, he'll leave his wife and three children behind. He'll leave two brothers behind. He'll leave his mother Ida behind. We will pray that he, and so many others, return home safely, as his sacrifice will be great.

But Ida's sacrifice will also be great. Like many daughters, sisters, wives and mothers, she has been making such quiet sacrifices all of her life.

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© 2002, Tom Purcell