Fear. Pride. Resolve.
The fear that when they say goodbye to their sons next spring, it’s possible the young men may never come home.
The pride that comes with being able to say their sons are serving on the front lines for this country.
The resolve that, no matter what, they’ll stand behind the choices their sons made to put on that uniform.
As the nation readies to remember those fallen on 9/11, the world remains a dangerous place. A decade after the attacks, Cynthia Ventura and Lisa Ryan will send their sons off to war next year.
“I was 13 when those towers went down,” Michael Ryan, of Hicksville, told his mother, explaining why he wanted to make it his mission to protect people. “That really set me off to what life is all about.”
Michael Ryan is now 23 and a private first class in the U.S. Army. He will be deployed for the first time in either March or April to Afghanistan as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Specialist. It’s a highly dangerous job as was portrayed in the 2009 movie, The Hurt Locker.
“I’m really proud of the decision he made, he chose a job that if I had a choice, I would have said pick something easier and he chose to be a bomb tech for the U.S. Army,” Lisa Ryan said of her son, “and came out being number one in his class. He’s amazing. He really is a smart kid and loves what he does.”
Ventura, of Holtsville, knows a bit about resolve. Her son, Jerry, an aviation supply specialist with the U.S. Marines, died in April at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego. The 23-year-old’s death was a terrible accident, his mother said, preferring not to go into further details.
What Ventura will talk about passionately, and for everyone to hear, is her continued support of the dreams and ambitions of her other two sons: 20-year-old Billy and 17-year-old Dylan. Billy followed Jerry into the Marines and is set to be deployed to a yet-to-be-determined location next spring.
“I’m going to be frightened, a lot of worry, especially with what I’ve been through,” Cynthia Ventura said of Billy's deployment, adding that while she thought Jerry’s death might cause Billy to pull back a bit from the service, it’s only made him more determined. “I’m going to support his choice and I’m very proud of him.”
‘I missed a whole year of their lives’
In the years following 9/11, many Long Islanders signed up for the military with a shot of patriotism in their veins. Chris Delaney was one of them. The 37-year-old from Lindenhurst was working a midnight shift at Suffolk County’s department of corrections on the Tuesday the Twin Towers crashed to the ground.
Delaney, who helps run Long Island 9-1-1 Veterans, a nonprofit that provides financial assistance to local veterans in need, headed to Ground Zero when the towers were hit “to see the devastation first-hand.” Delaney joined the U.S. Coast Guard a couple of years later and patrolled the New York City harbor as part of a tactical law enforcement team.
“For me it was very rewarding because I lived in New York,” he said. “I’ve lived on Long Island my whole life and we got hit in our backyard and here I was doing something in New York right where we were hit.”
It wasn’t until years later, though, nearly eight years after the attacks, that Delaney had to say goodbye to his wife and 4-year-old twins after he was deployed to Kuwait, attached to a South Dakota National Guard unit.
“My son took it really hard so it was definitely an eye-opener for me,” said Delaney, who also spent time in Iraq, adding that the experience made him realize that the families soldiers leave behind pay a steep price.
Delaney separated from the Coast Guard in May. He would have enlisted again, but like many of the young men who were eager to fight for revenge after 9/11, Delaney now has more than just himself to think about and care for.
“I was going to enlist in the Army when I got back, but after seeing what it did to my kids, I had to make the decision, do I be selfish and do what I want to do or do I stay home and make sure I’m there for my son and daughter?” Delaney said of his twins, who are now 6. “They are really 5 to me because I missed a whole year of their lives.”
A motherly bond
As Delaney turns his attention to his family and taking care of returning veterans, a whole new generation of soldiers is cropping up, ones like the Venturas and Ryan, who were children or in their early teens at the time of the 9/11 attacks.
But they also leave loved ones behind. Cynthia Ventura is the president of the Long Island chapter of Blue Star Moms, a 127-member strong support group for mothers left at home to worry about their deployed children. The LI chapter was formed in 2009.
Cynthia Ventura now has new gold star on her Blue Star Moms T-shirt. It’s a not a star she ever wanted to receive. It represents that she has a child who was killed while in the service.
“They are my lifeline,” Ventura said of the Blue Star Moms, of which Lisa Ryan serves as secretary. “If it wasn’t for them, I would still be in bed.”
The two mothers were at Satellite Pizza in Bayport recently to arrange for the restaurant to donate pizzas for an upcoming fundraiser. The group attends events all over the island, often with a box of tissues on its table and to military mothers, they offer first a hug and then an application, as Ryan puts it.
With one son lost, another about to be deployed and her youngest debating enlisting in the Army after high school, Ventura pauses for a second when asked if she had her way, would her sons have chosen a safer path?
“This is what is in their hearts,” Ventura says, with photos of her sons and several other children of Blue Star Moms spread out over a table outside Satellite Pizza. “This is what is inside them. It’s a calling.”
A calling to protect and serve a decade after so many were lost. There's no need to ask why.
Lisa Ryan asks, “How do you tell a New York City firefighter to not run into a burning building?”
It's not a question, though.