Last January Staff Sgt. Ronald M. Randazzo wrote his father that he was committed to winning the war he had been called on to fight. "When I get home, I have some stories that will really highlight this for you," he promised.
"He said, 'Dad, I've got guys here who depend on me and they're young guys and they're scared,' " his father, Paul Randazzo, remembered yesterday. " 'We're going to get the job done -- it will only take us a month. I'll be home in a month.' "
He was home in a little more than a month. But not alive. He died instantly Feb. 20 when his armored vehicle came under Iraqi fire during a reconnaissance mission at the Saudi Arabian border.
Yesterday Paul and Leona Randazzo honored their son's sacrifice publicly at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens and Mausoleum in Timonium with families of the six other Marylanders who died in Operation Desert Storm.
In many ways it was a traditional Memorial Day ceremony. Uniformed color guards defying the 90-degree heat stood ramrod straight in the sun for an hour and a half. The 229th Army Band played. Politicians and local celebrities and military officials offered praise for the seven Maryland men who gave their lives and for the families of all who served in Operation Desert Storm.
"They are the true patriots," said Representative Helen Delich Bentley, R-Md.-2nd, "putting devotion to their country and the ideals for which it stands first."
The Thursday's Minstrels, a Dulaney High School chorus, sang God Bless the U.S.A. The names of Marylanders who died in the Vietnam War were called.
But for the families of the seven Desert Storm heroes, Memorial Day 1991 was a very personal remembrance. Many family members showed their grief, tears rolling down their cheeks during the ceremony and afterward when they talked about their loved ones.
Asked whether his son's death has shaken his belief in military service, Mr. Randazzo did not hesitate. "If anything, it fortifies it even more," he said.
"This country has always meant a stand against tyranny and aggression. To have freedom is a costly process," he said. "I always told my boys you have to be prepared to pay the price tag."
Mr. Randazzo and several of his five sons have been in the National Guard. "We're a military family," he explained.
"We're proud of our son," Mrs. Randazzo said. "It just hurts so bad that he's gone."
Time is supposed to ease pain like hers, she said. But the very visible and continuing public aftermath of Desert Storm -- the abundance of yellow ribbons, the parades and speeches, the television pictures of new batches of returning troops-- all keep the grief over her own son fresh in her mind. For the Randazzos of Glen Burnie, healing will come later.
Violet Lang, older sister of Lance Cpl. James M. Lang of the U.S. Marine Corps, said that talking about her 20-year-old brother, who was killed March 1 by a grenade, helps her cope.
Ms. Lang lives in Falls Church, Va., and her brother lived in Oxon Hill.
He used to call her every day. "I can still hear it: 'Hey Vi, what's up?' The little crack in his voice. We were very close. I miss him so much."
He had girlfriends -- that's plural, she emphasizes. "A girl couldn't come within the vicinity of him without falling in love with him." But he was a very nice guy, Ms. Lang wants to be sure you understand. He didn't date secretively. The girls all knew of their competition.
Corporal Lang wanted to be a policeman like his best friend, James Santos, a Prince George's County officer. He had been accepted by two police academies and planned to enroll as soon as he returned from the gulf war.
Cindy Santos, sister of James Santos and close friend of Violet Lang, accompanied her to the ceremony yesterday. They both smiled broadly when remembering how proud Jimmy Lang was to be a Marine. Once the two Jimmys were riding along in a car when someone on a radio talk show referred to Marines as soldiers. "Jimmy Lang picked up the car phone, called the radio station and informed the radio talk show caller that "Marines are Marines," Ms. Santos said.
Violet Lang had really been looking forward to her brother's return. Their parents live in Guam and the brother and sister were going to make a lot of plans -- their entire adult lives ahead of them.
"I've prayed to Jimmy and told him this is what I'm going to do for both of us," Ms. Lang said. "Get my degree, probably in business administration, and just do good -- do it for both of us because he can't be here."
Paul Randazzo takes pride in his son's sense of purpose. "He didn't want any of his brothers or his children to ever come there [to war]," Mr. Randazzo said. He hoped it wouldn't be necessary if he did his best.
"I think he proved his point," the father said. "Now the whole world will understand what it means -- one nation under God with liberty and justice for all."