Bittersweet day for mothers of lost soldiers

May 2, 2011 8:08:08 PM PDT
If you read the avalanche of comments on Facebook or Twitter about the death of Osama bin Laden, the expression of emotion is almost frenzied jubilation.

Given the events of September 11, 2001 and the many more deaths that have followed, the reaction to this chapter in a 10-year manhunt is understandable. The voices I listened to Monday had passion and even a hint of joy, but it was more what one might call a quiet celebration in the heart.

"We rejoice in this success because we have failures that we need to grieve over, but we need to rejoice when there is a successful mission and this has certainly been a long awaited for outcome," said Donna Alexson of Cupertino.

"It is bittersweet. I am not joyful at all, but I am glad that he is gone," said Karen Meredith of Mountain View, in reference to bin Laden.

Both of these women had tears in their eyes when they spoke. To me, their sacrifices give their voices more weight than many of the free-flowing comments coming forth on the Internet.

Donna's son, Matthew Axelson, 29, of Cupertino was a Navy Seal killed June 28, 2005 while on a Special Forces operation in Afghanistan. Meredith's son, Lt. Ken Ballard, 26, from Mountain View was on a mission in Iraq when he was killed on May 30, 2004 in Najaf. The mothers of these military men have every reason to match their elation of Osama bin Laden's death with the magnitude of their pain, but they choose to respond in a way that honors their son's service and sacrifice.

Donna and Corky Axelson spent time reflecting at Cupertino Memorial Park. Their son's sacrifice was the catalyst for a local tribute to military service. The Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 2007 and one of the men depicted in the statue is their son.

When asked how he felt about bin Laden's death, Corky said, "It's not like vengeance or anything else like that, but it's just knowing that he is gone that makes us feel good."

It is that same quiet satisfaction felt by Meredith. Her son sent her an email the day U.S. troops captured Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"That was my biggest emotion was missing my son last night, that he didn't get to see this day, but I think we can turn the chapter on Osama bin Laden," said Meredith.

The memorial is a poignant reminder of military service and sacrifice and on Monday, there have been a number of people who stopped by. There are two notes at the base of the statue; one reads simply "Thank you" and the other reads "We finished what you men started."

Also on Monday, a group of woman laid flowers and placed American flags at some of the 6,038 crosses of the war memorial established in Lafayette during the Iraq War.

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