Bunco Group Source Of Comfort For Mother Of Soldier Fighting In Iraq

By Connie Leonard

(LOUISVILLE, May 19th, 2004, 12:30 p.m.) -- It's difficult for any American to deal with news of soldiers being killed in Iraq almost daily, but even more so for those with loved ones involved in the fighting Young men and women from Kentuckiana are doing the job they were asked to do, despite the dangers. WAVE 3's Connie Leonard takes a personal look at how one local mother is dealing with not knowing when her son will come home.

As difficult as it was to send their soldiers to battle, "the homecoming" for many Kentuckiana families is a feeling like no other. But for parents, spouses and children still waiting, "how long?" is like a roll of the dice.

Sandy Gross says her best friend's support may have saved her sanity. "The day she found out Steve was going to Iraq, I couldn't hardly breathe, and neither could she," recalls Chrisie Crawford.

Oxygen came by way of Chrisie's Bunco group. "It's a huge support in the hard times," Sandy says.

The group immediately adopted Sandy and an honorary player: her son Steve. "I can't wait to meet him," says one group member. I haven't got to meet him. I've just seen his picture."

In the military, Sandy's 23-year-old son is known as Private First Class Steve Melcher. For Sandy, he is simply "the joy and pride of my heart."

There's no shortage of adjectives when Sandy describes her son. "tenacious,.opinionated, passionate, energetic, strong, athletic."

The young army medic is running first-aid missions for U.S. and Iraqi soldiers between Fallujah and Baghdad.

A small care package from the women at Christmas prompted an email from Pfc. Melcher. He told his mother the gifts meant a great deal, especially to troops in his unit who weren't getting anything from home. For that, Sandy says,"I'm proud of my son because when he thought of getting packages, he wasn't thinking of himself."

Now sending care packages has become a monthly ritual for the group. "Everybody brings really cool stuff and we can't wait to see what everybody brings and we ship it off."

< P> From fruit roll ups to toothbrushes and books, the women put their money, time and hearts into every shipment.

And Sandy says it's appreciated. "The night before Mothers Day, he said he had to drive 80 miles to get to a computer to wish me Happy Mother's Day."

Sandy is keeping a journal for her son. She shared a passage with us. "In the quiet solitude of my home, which was once full of commotion and vitality, I can sit and remember all the wonderful times we shared."

Sandy, Chrisie and the rest of the bunco group have a reminder for the rest of us: fighting in Iraq is far from over, and we need to remember those with family and friends there.

Meanwhile, the group considers it their military duty to comfort a friend and mother who wants to tell her son to come home but can't because she knows he is fighting for what he believes in. "I need to tell him, 'son, stay the course. Be strong. And when the time is right, you'll be here with us and I'm waiting for you."