MANCHESTER — For Martha Freeland, the only real escape from news about Operation Desert Storm comes during the six hours she spends each week day hauling students to and from county schools.
But even then, on occasion, painful reminders that the bus driver's 20-year-old son is stationed near the Saudi Arabian capital -- within striking distance of Iraqi Scud missiles -- come from well-intentioned and thoughtful youngsters.
"Some of my students -- the elementary kids -- tell me, 'Miss Marty (her nickname), we're praying for your son,' " said Freeland, tears welling in her eyes.
Her youngest son, David, recently promoted to Army specialist, transferred from Germany to the Persian Gulf shortly after Iraq invaded oil-rich Kuwait last summer. His family only knows that he is stationed outside the capital of Riyadh to protect valuable military equipment.
"He's surrounded by Patriot missiles,"said his father, Paul. "Whatever he's protecting, the Patriot missiles are protecting him."
The Freelands live outside of town in a modest, well-kept home where an American flag flies daily. They called the Patriot missiles "a godsend" for providing soldiers like their son with unprecedented military protection.
A North Carroll High School graduate, David joined the Army two years ago. His parents said it was something their "outgoing and fun-loving" son always wanted to do. They hoped he would choose college.
He is not their only son in the military, though. His older brother, Steve, also a North Carroll graduate, is stationed at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia. The 23-year-old recently became a father, bringing some joy to a family whose lives have been held hostage to the Middle East conflict.
"Theholidays were rather depressing," said Martha, who also has an 18-year-old daughter, Rachel. "The baby -- a boy -- was a note of good cheer. Steve's been reassured that he'll remain here. He's needed to help repair equipment that comes back."
Two phone calls from David since U.N. forces began the air attack on Iraq have eased some of the family's concerns about his safety.
"He's called whenever Saudi Arabia has been bombed," said Paul, who works for Coca-Cola in Baltimore. "He's upbeat and proud of what he's doing."
Still, his parents are frightened.
"I still think Saddam Hussein has a lot of things in store yet," Martha said. "That's the frightening part. You just don't know."
She tries to keep informed of the latest events in the Persian Gulf through television, radio and newspaper accounts.
"I have to know what's going on," she explained.
Her husband tries to divert her attention.
"I try to get her not to watch so much news," he said. "It's upsetting for her. I think she should listen to Pentagon reports because they're factual. But a lot of the other stuff isjust commentary."
Yet Martha cannot tear herself away from the television.
She said there were no words to describe her feelings when the Allied forces began bombing Iraq.
"My heart never stopped pounding," she said.
The strings of their emotions were pulled again when Iraq retaliated, bombing Israel.
"We were real upset when they bombed Tel Aviv," said Paul, who served a 4-year stint in the Navy. "I almost live in as much fear as the soldiers. It's very difficult for all of us."
Like other parents with sons and daughters stationed in the Middle East, the Freelands are distressed with the growing war protests across the country.
"It's not just the U.S. at war," Paul said. "It the whole world against one person. We don't want another Vietnam, either."
Added Martha: "Needless to say, we have very strong feelings."
The family finds comfort and some solace through worship at Millers United Methodist Church, where "everybody has been aconstant source of support," she said.
"They keep David in their prayers," Martha said.
David and Steve aren't the only soldiers in thefamily's prayers.
"We haven't stopped praying for other families, especially the families of the pilots who have been captured," Martha said. "I can't even imagine what those families are going through."