Barbara Connolly of Hillendale lost her husband in the Vietnam War.
He wasn't killed in combat, but his spirit was, Ms. Connolly says -- and she divorced him shortly after he returned from duty.
Almost 18 years later, Ms. Connolly says she is afraid the same thing will happen to her sons -- Howard L. B. Connolly, 20, and Sean B. Connolly, 21 -- who are serving in Operation Desert Storm.
Howard followed in his father's footsteps and joined the Marines when he was 18. He was stationed in the Saudi Arabian desert at a camp near the Kuwaiti border. Sean enlisted in the Navy and is a cook on the USS Saratoga.
"I talked to [Howard] this morning," Ms. Connolly, 39, said yesterday. "He sounded strong like he always does because he doesn't want to worry me.
"The last thing he said was, 'I know what I'm doing, Mom. I'm going to be all right, and I love you,' " she continued. "But I couldn't hang up until I heard the line disconnect. It was like I wanted to cling on to every second I have with him because I don't know if I'm ever going to see him again -- at least not the same boy who left here."
Ms. Connolly said that she had seen her ex-husband hardened by the horrors of fighting in Vietnam and that she feared for the mental health of her sons more than their physical well-being.
"I know my sons know what they are doing, and they know how to take care of themselves," she said. "But they are also sensitive and very caring. I'm just afraid that the military drills might fill them with so much aggression, and they'll come home handling every situation like a drill sergeant."
But she supports her sons' decision to join the military. She said that Howard wanted to study engineering and that Sean hoped to go to culinary school and own a restaurant someday. The military offered them money to pay for their education -- something Ms. Connolly couldn't afford to do.
"My sons thought this was their chance to be something," she said. "The military would give them all kinds of privileges that we just didn't have otherwise.
"And words can't express how proud I am of them."