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WHEN DUTY CALLS <br> WNY FAMILIES RALLY TO SUPPORT LOVED ONES WHO ARE SUDDENLY SUMMONED TO SERVE THEIR COUNTRY

Peggy Conroy was at her job as a teacher's aide at School 31 last Tuesday afternoon when an announcement came over the loudspeaker: "Would Mrs. Conroy come to the office, please, it's an emergency call."

Conroy raced to the phone and briefly talked to her husband, William, a military policeman with the National Guard, who said his unit had been activated.

In just a few hours he was to leave for New York City because of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Their conversation lasted barely a minute.

"We didn't have time to say goodbye," Peggy Conroy said. "I have no idea when he's coming home."

With a national crisis and American military action a foregone conclusion, military families are coping with uncertainty.

That's nothing new for Peggy Conroy and sons: Billy, 14; Jeffrey, 13, and Tyler, 7. The South Buffalo family is used to life without their father. William Conroy, who works as a corrections officer, has been called up to active duty three times in the past decade.

He served in the Gulf War, and last spring he returned from a year's duty in Bosnia. Conroy has been in the service for nearly two decades; he and Peggy have been married for 16 years.

"You learn to expect the unexpected and you become very independent," Peggy Conroy said. "This is the third time he had to leave on short notice, so I know how to handle things.

"The boys love sports, and I take them to football practice and the games. Usually, that's dad's job, but I can handle it. I work, volunteer at my church, and take care of the kids. I start at 6 in the morning and I go until midnight."

Conroy wouldn't have it any other way. "I know my husband is a good soldier and will do all he can do to help those people in New York," she said. "That's what really matters and that's why I'm so proud of him.

"I don't want people to be concerned about me and kids. I can take care of things; my husband is the one doing the important work."

Not content with just a phone call, Conroy left work early last Tuesday, rounded up the kids and was able to see her husband before he left. "We had a minute to hug and kiss," she said. "It was crazy; everybody was rushing and packing. But at least we got to say goodbye."

Now, with each passing day, the reality of his absence becomes stronger.

"It's almost like a bad dream; you want to wake up and find him back home, but he's not here," Conroy said. "The kids are doing pretty good, and I'm trying to keep things normal at home. We're dealing with it."

Proud, and apprehensive

So is Ed Sabuda, 67, of Lackawanna.

He knows firsthand about military sacrifice. Sabuda was 19 when he served in the Marines during the Korean conflict. Now, both his grandsons are 19 and in the service. Eric Rohe is in the National Guard and has been sent to New York City. Vincent Evans just completed basic training with the the 82nd Airborne Division.

Both decided to follow in their grandfather's military footsteps.

"They did this on their own, and I thought it was a good thing," Sabuda said. "We were at peace and it was a good time. Now, everything has changed.

"I'm proud of both of them, but after what happened (last) week, I'm also apprehensive," he said.

When Sabuda heard the news about the terrorist attacks, he thought of his grandchildren.

"I keep thinking, they're only 19, what's going to happen to them," he said. "You watch all this stuff on television and it seems like fiction. But real people are involved."

His advice to families with members in the military is simple:

"We have to support them. If they feel like talking, listen to what they have to say. But don't force them to talk about what they're doing or what might happen. Just let them know you will always be there for them."

Sandra Evans, Sabuda's daughter and the mother of Vincent Evans, believes those back home can offer something else.

"Since Vinny left for the service, every night at dinner we say a prayer for him and the other soldiers," his mother said. "And we say prayers for all those victims. When you grow up in a military family, you are raised to know what freedom is all about."

Vincent Evans is ready to serve.

"What happened was just to terrible," he said. "I think we have to retaliate, you just can't sit still for something like this." He knows his family is concerned about his safety.

"I just tell them not to worry," he said. "I've got a job to do and I'm ready."

The family bond only grows stronger, especially with his grandfather. During his training, Evans often called him.

"I made seven (parachute) jumps and I called grandpa after each one. My grandfather and I are very close. There's nothing he wouldn't do for me, or I wouldn't do for him."

It's that family bond that gives Evans strength.

"I'm glad I'm home right now," he said. "I'm trying to spend as much time with my family as a I can."

"It's hard on my children'

So is Lt. Col. Carol J. Rogers.

The Orchard Park native and mother of five now lives near Washington, D.C., where she is assigned to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"I don't know if people on the outside truly understand what a military family goes through," she said.

"I know it's hard on my children, but they seem to understand.

"I couldn't make it without the help of my neighbors and my church. People have been great to me. And my family back home is always supportive."

Rogers, who graduated from Mt. Mercy Academy during the 1960s, has spent most of the past two decades in the Army, starting out in the reserves before moving to active duty. She is a single parent with two teenage boys who still live at home. One of her sons, Robert Rogers, serves in the Army Special Forces.

The past week has been a challenge at home and work for Rogers, who often has to go to the Pentagon. During the early hours after Tuesday's terrorist attack, her family desperately tried to reach her.

"I was worried sick about Carol, it's been so hard," said her mother; Margaret Hammerling of Orchard Park. "I kept thinking she was at the Pentagon. We kept calling but we couldn't get ahold of her."

After the plane crash, Rogers had been evacuated from another Defense Department building and was unable to contact her family. Both her sons were in school but tried to reach their mother.

"I finally got through to them, but it was a terrible day," Rogers said. "I kept getting phone calls from Buffalo, some from people I haven't heard from in years. Just to know they care that much makes you feel better."

Every day, on her ride to and from work, Rogers can see the Pentagon.

"You could see the smoke and destruction and you thought about the people you knew who worked there and didn't make it," she said. "Living with all this is very stressful for anyone in the military. It's just exhausting; you come home and you're completely drained."

But Rogers, who recently graduated from the U.S. Army War College, isn't just an officer. She also is a mother.

"The military is about service and duty and I understand that," she said. "But your family also has to make sacrifices. I've had to suddenly move my (sons) during the school year when my assignment changed, and as a mother, that's hard to reconcile."

Right now, one of Rogers main concerns is about her son, Robert. He was in Italy last week on vacation with his wife and was desperately trying to get transportation back to Fort Bragg, N.C., where he is based.

"I know he'll be all right, but I'm worried about him," Rogers said.

Despite all the problems, Rogers views it as part of the duty.

"When you sign that dotted line to serve, you know the potential exists for situations like this." she said. "And because we believe in what we're doing, we accept it."

For military families, it's all part of the job, Rogers believes.

"You may cry when you say good-bye to loved ones in the military but you have to understand, this is what they want to do: serve their country. I don't think we could do it, if it wasn't for the love and support of our families."

e-mail: aviolanti@buffnews.com

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