William and Sharon Rappold were invited to ride in three Independence Day parades in the county this year.
But the Forest Hill couple declined the invitations. To them, the Fourth of July was just another day without their sons.
The Rappolds' sons, both general enlistment Marines who served inthe Persian Gulf war, have yet to return to their regular assignments, even though the war ended four months ago.
Brian, 19, has been sent to Japan, and William, 21, is posted at the Iraq-Turkey border.
"There's nothing for us to celebrate," Sharon Rappold said. "Everyone is saying, 'The war is over. Our men are home.' But I've got two of them who aren't home."
The Pentagon says 46,000 soldiers are still stationed in the Persian Gulf region.
Rappold says she feels that her family is in limbo, wondering whether the sons will finish their enlistments in the United States or see further military action.
Brian was sent to Okinawa, Japan, after serving in combat during the Allied invasion of Iraq, Rappold said. The couple have not heard from Brian in two months -- and the last time his parents heard from the Marine he was depressed about his role in the war.
"He said, 'Mom, I've killed people,' " Rappold said. "I can't get to him to find out if he's handling this. . . . I'm getting scared. He's never gone two weeks without (sending) a letter."
As for William, he has beenassigned to Iraq's northern border with Turkey after spending the war in a ship stationed in the Red Sea, Rappold said.
Following the war, William's platoon was sent to northern Iraq to help the Kurdish refugees, Rappold said. The platoon has been expecting to return to its ships but has been staying at the border because of the continued instability in the region.
The Rappold family heard from William last week when the soldier called his wife, Stacy. He recounted tales of how soldiers have given their food and water rations to help the suffering Kurds, Rappold recalled.
The corporal spent three days ina hospital, suffering from dehydration, because he gave his water tostarving children and their dying pets, Rappold said.
Rappold said she is frustrated by how most people seem to have forgotten about the soldiers who have yet to return from the Persian Gulf.
But she said she isn't surprised: People see the gulf war as old news, Rappold said, replaced in the headlines by volcano eruptions in the Philippines and civil war in Yugoslavia.
She's noticed how many people have removed the yellow ribbons they placed on their houses and cars when the war was in high gear.
"I went out and put up more yellow ribbons," Rappold said.
Despite her concern and frustration, Rappoldsaid she continues to have faith in the military. And her youngest son, 8-year-old Robert, already has said he wants to join the armed forces.
"We're a very patriotic family," Rappold said. "I strongly feel every young adult should go into the services. I think it gives asense of value to your life."
The Rappold family has sought solace by staying active in Desert Comfort, a Harford-based support group that formed as the gulf crisis escalated to help local families with loved ones stationed in the Middle East. The group continues to meet periodically at the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Bel Air.
At the height of the war, Harford families of 38 soldiers were participating in Desert Comfort, said John E. Monk, president of the group. Thegroup now has about 35 active members, representing 18 service people.
While the group continues to help families, Monk said members also have been assisting veterans -- mostly returning reservists -- adjust to civilian life.
Some veterans are experiencing financial problems because of income they lost while serving in the Middle East, Monk said. Others are having difficulty putting "fragmented" relationships together again.
"These guys who are coming back are not hurtby the way the country treated them," Monk said. "They're disturbed from the death that they saw."
Desert Comfort has organized tree-planting ceremonies across the county to honor Harford's veterans. Planting sites include North Harford High School in Pylesville, FallstonHigh and Harford Christian School in Dublin.
In addition, the support group sponsored a float in Delta-Cardiff's Independence Day parade. It also presented plaques to local service people.
Desert Comfort also arranged homecoming parties for returning troops at county Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.
But the parties were discouraging to the families of soldiers who have not returned, Monk said. "Not allour people are back. They're being forgotten."