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Quiet sacrifice of those left behind

By TOM PURCELL

Ida Ayres never served a day in the armed forces, but she knows a thing or two about the sacrifices of war.

When we think of war and conflict, we think of the men and women who put themselves in harm's way, as we should. But what about the parents, children, 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," Ida explained to me.

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 Germans branded his forehead - a scar he retained for the rest of his life.

Thankfully, he lived. He was declared a hero in Italy for overcoming the brutality. He eventually settled in America. He sent for his wife. They gave birth to Ida and two sons, Angelo and Pasquale. Life was hard during the Depression years, but Ida's family prevailed.

But then America was thrust back into war - a war in which both of Ida's brothers 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 Korea before she met him (he'd doctored his birth certificate and found himself on the front lines as a 16-year-old kid). After they married, he was called to serve another tour in Korea. Thankfully, he returned home safe.

But in 1966, her husband was called back again. This time he left his wife and two sons behind to fight in Vietnam. As an Army major, he was lucky to survive 12 months of dangerous air missions. In one battle his best friend had both arms and legs shot off right next to him.

In 1968, Ida's oldest son Sam announced he 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.

Thankfully, both Harry and Sam made it home. Finally, she hoped, life could get back to normal. And for the most part, life did get back to normal. America went on to enjoy an amazing run of prosperity. We were riding high until 9/11, when we were thrust into conflict again.

And now Ida's youngest son, Major General Tom Ayres, my childhood friend, has completed several deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. Army recently awarded him his second star and appointed him Deputy Judge Advocate General.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Memorial Day is about remembering and honoring deceased military personnel, who died serving their country. Veterans Day, however, is about thanking and honoring all members of the military, whether they served during times of war or times of peace.

This Veterans Day, as we thank and honor those who have served, we should also pay homage to people like Ida Ayres - the parents, children, siblings and spouses who have quietly sacrificed for their country.

Tom Purcell is author of "Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood" and "Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!" and a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review columnist. purcell@caglecartoons.com