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Tragedy During Iraqi War Brings Mothers Together

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6, 2003 – Tragedy brought Becky Lalush and Millie C. Williams together. They didn't know each other until after their sons were killed together in a helicopter accident in Iraq on March 30.

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They live hundreds of miles apart, but Lalush, of Troutville, Va., and Williams, of Port Charlotte, Fla., are finding comfort in leaning on each other as they try to cope with the sudden loss of their sons. They're the first two mothers who lost children during the war in Iraq to join a group of older women called the American Gold Star Mothers, most of whom lost children during the Vietnam War.

Williams joined the Gold Star Mothers on June 13, which would have been her son's 24th birthday. She found out about the organization shortly after her son died, and later suggested that Lalush join, too.

The newly found friends decided to meet in Washington in late September for the recently completed Gold Star Mothers weekend, which included their annual banquet and Gold Star Mothers Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery's Tomb of the Unknowns.

Asked if mingling with the older Gold Star Mothers is helping her cope better with the loss of her son, Williams said, "Not yet! I haven't had an opportunity to meet the women or get involved. But I'm sure it will help. I'm looking forward to it being a big support system.

"The women here are older, so they have a lot more strength," she continued. "It has been a long time for some of them, and I'm thinking they could teach me a few things. Then I'll be able to teach other mothers who will be coming after me, unfortunately."

She said her first reactions to her son's death were "disbelief, shock, anger."

"I have to deal with it, but to a degree, there's still anger," said Williams, whose son, Marine Corps Sgt. Brian McGinnis, 23, was a crewman on a Huey helicopter with the Marine Corps' Helicopter Medium Light Attack 169 unit. HeHe was buried April 12 at a church in Newark, Del., said Williams, who has a 28- year-old son in the Air Force, a stepson, 26, and an 8-year-old daughter.

McGinnis had spent five years in the Marines, and was slated to get out in March so he could raise a family, according to his mother. "He loved the Marine Corps, and said he joined because it's the best," said Williams, who moved from Newark to Port Charlotte, Fla., about a year ago. "He was married and wanted to have children, but didn't want to have them while he was in the Marines."

Williams said she's coping with her loss daily, and her husband, Byron Williams, is coping about the same as she is.

Lalush's son, Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Lalush, was also 23 when he was killed in the helicopter crash.

The grieving mother said "desperation" brought her together with Williams.

"Desperate measures call for desperate actions," Lalush said. "We contacted each other because we were in the same situation and needed each other's support." Williams said her motivation was the same. "I was desperate and managed to get her address and phone number," she said.

Calling herself a "natural worrier," Lalush said, "When I saw on the television news at 12:30 (p.m.) that a Huey helicopter had crashed, I called my husband. It worried me quite a bit."

Her husband, Dave Lalush, tried to calm her down by saying things like, "Do you know how many helicopters are out there right now flying? There are a lot of them out there; just don't worry." And she tried not to.

"Then at 7:30 that evening, (Marine casualty officers) knocked on our door. We knew then, because where we live, nobody knocks on the door at 7:30 at night," said Lalush, who lives in Troutville, Va., near Roanoke.

"They couldn't find our house sooner, because we live out in the rural area and it's not easy to find," said Lalush, who is left with a 28-year-old stepdaughter and her husband.

Like his fellow Marine McGinnis, Michael Lalush told his mother he wanted to become a Marine because, "they're the best." He wasn't married and had already re-enlisted en route to making the Marine Corps a career. And also like his friend McGinnis, Lalush was worried about being a Marine and having a family, his mother noted.

The sergeant was buried at Arlington National Cemetery on April 17, the day before his 24th birthday.

As to coping with her son's death, Lalush said there have been only about two days that she hasn't cried since March 30. Her eyes welled up with tears as she added, "It's hard. I miss him!"

The grieving mother said her best friend, who also lost a son, helps her to cope.

"She has been a huge help," said Lalush, who joined the Gold Star Mothers about two weeks ago. "She told me that you have to go through every occasion -- birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother's Day -- once. It doesn't get easier, but it's different after that first year.

"I've been told that you have to accept everything that happens -- anger, sadness, (being) mad at everybody, whatever," she said.

Her husband came to Washington with her for the Gold Star Mothers weekend event. He said when he heard of the crash, he was hoping "it was just another helicopter accident. They happen all the time."

But when the knock came on the door and he opened it, Lalush said, "I just looked at the two Marines and made the comment, 'This isn't good news, is it?' They said, 'No, sir, it isn't.'

"That was it!" Lalush said, chocking back tears. "That was the hardest part for me. Now (we're) just trying to move on."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMillie C. Williams, left, and Becky Lalush, right, live hundreds of miles apart, but they've been helping each other cope since their sons were killed in the same helicopter accident in Iraq. They pose together in Washington with Dave Lalush during the American Gold Star Mothers annual banquet at the Washington Marriott Hotel. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageMillie C. Williams wears a picture of her son, Marine Corps Sgt. Brian McGinnis, 23, who was killed in Iraq on March 30. He was a crewman on a Huey helicopter. Photo by Rudi Williams  
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