Tribute to Sgt. Robert Weinger, Staff Sgt. Timothy Bowles, Sgt. Christopher Abeyta and Spc. Norman Cain III.
As a boy, Bob Weinger played soccer and was on the school wrestling team in his hometown of Round Lake, Ill., north of Chicago. He rode motorcycles and drag raced his car as a teenager -- a “crazy kid,” said his mother, Susan Weinger.
“He always wanted to be a GI Joe,” she said.
Courtesy Susan Weinger
Sgt. Bob Weinger
In 2006, Bob joined the Illinois National Guard, went to boot camp and then straight to Iraq. There, he guarded prisoners. His mother later learned that one of them was former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
Bob came home, but after trouble finding a job, signed up for another tour of duty, knowing he was heading to Afghanistan.
On March 15, 2009, Sgt. Robert Weinger was killed when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle in the village of Kot, in eastern Afghanistan. He was 24.
Susan Weinger is one of thousands of mothers of fallen soldiers who each year take part in annual Memorial Day services across the country. For many Americans, the holiday marks the traditional start of summer. But for loved ones of the fallen, it's a somber day to honor the dead.
Like Weinger, many mothers of fallen soldiers belong to a group called the American Gold Star Mothers, named for the traditional gold star put in windows of homes signifying a family of a fallen soldier.
Killed in the same attack as Bob Weinger were Staff Sgt. Timothy Bowles, Sgt. Christopher Abeyta and Spc. Norman Cain III. Cain’s sister, Bree Otto, has posted a video on YouTube titled 'Never Forget' to remember the fallen Illinois guardsmen.
A short time after Bob’s death, a soldier in uniform knocked on Susan Weinger’s door. “I knew if they came to the door he was dead,” she said. “If he was just hurt it would be a phone call.”
Courtesy Susan Weinger
From left: Bob's fiancee, Tanya Colatorti; Bob; Bob's younger brother Paul Weinger; his aunt Vicki King; and Bob's mom, Sue Weinger.
The man asked if she was Sgt. Robert Weinger’s mother. “I just kept asking, ‘is he dead, is he dead,’ and the man kept repeating ‘Are you Sgt. Bob Weinger’s mother?’ and he wouldn’t answer. Finally, he just bowed his head, and said, ‘he’s dead.’”
“I was numb for almost a year,” Susan Weinger, a middle school librarian, said. “I finally went back to work just because I wasn’t any good at home anymore.”
She became involved in the American Gold Star Mothers -- she’s now the president of the Northern Illinois chapter -- because she said she knew her son wouldn’t want her to grieve forever.
Betsy Schultz, of Port Angeles, Wash. started a foundation to honor her son, Capt. Joseph Schultz, 36, who was killed in action in Wardak Province, Afghanistan, on May 29, 2011.
The Captain Joseph House Foundation is meant as a living memorial, with the organization funding a retreat for service members and their families at a former bed and breakfast on the scenic Olympic Peninsula.
Schultz is bracing for the year anniversary of her son's death.
Courtesy Betsy Schultz
Capt. Joseph W. Schultz
“The last four to five days for me is just getting to the 29th, Betsy Schultz said. “And it’s really hard. I feel like I’m putting the breaks on. I don’t want May 29 to come. It just brings it all back very fresh.”
For many mothers, as time passes by, public service helps them through the sorrow.
“We’re not a grief organization,” national American Gold Star Mothers president Norma Luther told msnbc.com. “We are here to support each other. We do that by banding together and working for veterans in the hospitals and nursing homes and just stepping in wherever we see that they have a need. By doing that we begin to heal.”
“At the bottom of our list are barbecues and picnics and the like,” Luther said. “We hope everyone can try to remember what this day is for.”
Luther lost her son Glen. P. Adams Jr., a 27-year-old West Point graduate, to a helicopter accident in Germany in 1988. She said her emphasis has been to bring home the message that all mothers who have lost a son or daughter while serving in the military are gold star mothers, not just moms who have lost their children from combat deaths.
“Those deaths deserve as much recognition, respect and honor as someone who was killed in a war zone,” Luther said.
This weekend, services to honor veterans are planned in nearly every city and town in the country.
Luther will be at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on Monday when, on the 50th anniversary of the war, President Obama and other officials will pay homage to those who served there.
Susan Weinger will be in Chicago on Sunday for a Memorial Day parade, and on Monday will be at the cemetery to honor her son by planting a tree.
Betsy Schultz will spend Friday at Fort Bragg, N.C., for memorial services for Joseph, who was an Army Ranger in special forces. On Saturday, she will go to Arlington National Cemetery, where her son is buried. On Monday she will attend a breakfast at the White House for gold star families.
"It’s an honor to have them honor Joseph in this way," Betsy Schultz said. "He believed and he gave everything. I supported his decision to do what he does. He was proud to be an American and be there for his country. How could I not feel proud."
On Sunday night, a national Memorial Day concert called “A Night of Remembrance” will take place on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C., to pay tribute to Americans who have served and their loved ones. It will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. ET on many PBS stations.
NPR is also hosting a Virtual Wall of Remembrance, where people can post memories of their loved ones who died in war.
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