Grief, rage and a son who 'died in vain' Memories haunt soldier's family WAR IN THE GULF

GULF WAR: A MIXED LEGACY

January 16, 1992|By James Bock

Paul and Leona Randazzo can't forget -- or forgive -- the war that cost them a son. They revisit it every day through tears of grief and, sometimes, anger.

Army Staff Sgt. Ronald M. Randazzo, 24, was killed Feb. 20, 1991, when his tanklike anti-aircraft weapon was hit by an Iraqi round on the Saudi Arabian border. He was one of seven Marylanders to die in Operation Desert Storm.

There is grief: "It's terrible for me to get over," Mrs. Randazzo said. "I feel like there's a little piece of my heart missing. Sometimes I think I'm going to die of a broken heart."

And there is anger: "I'm angry because I think my son died in vain . . . and every day I live with that," Mr. Randazzo said. "They spilled my son's blood on the sand, and his [Saddam Hussein's] is intact.

"All I did was lose a son for absolutely nothing -- absolutely nothing."

Mr. and Mrs. Randazzo sat in the family room of her mother's house in Glen Burnie. Some of their five surviving children drifted in and out. Daughter Alice Brass was there with her 8-month-old daughter, Leona Patricia, a baby Ron Randazzo never knew.

Sergeant Randazzo's parents have been separated since a couple of months before he died, but they share their family and their grief. Remembrances of their son surround them -- photos, drawings, military ribbons and medals, and the flag from his casket, folded into a triangle with the stars showing.

By all accounts, Ron Randazzo was a big, outdoorsy guy who loved to camp, hunt and fish, and who thrived on Army life. He had an easy smile and dark good looks that charmed women -- "I never knew how many until his funeral," his mother said.

Memories of Sergeant Randazzo surround the family in Glen Burnie, too. There is a red granite monument to him on Ritchie Highway, a softball field named in his honor and a memorial scholarship fund for law enforcement students at Anne Arundel Community College. (He aspired to be an FBI agent.)

Mr. Randazzo, a heavy-equipment salesman, moved to a new sales territory near Washington "because driving through the center of "God, I hate to fight a war and not win -- never be allowed to win."

Glen Burnie was a constant reminder. I never knew how hard it was going to be. I had to get away from here."

Mrs. Randazzo wears a green "Free Kuwait/Support Desert Storm" sweat shirt. It is of the type that has been marked down at stores as public consciousness of the war waned. But in this family room, the war lives on. It has left more than a scar. It is an open wound.

"He was scared," Mrs. Randazzo said. "He wrote me, 'Mom, a lot of the kids over here are younger than me, and they're scared. I'm just as scared as they are, but I don't let them know it because they look up to me.'

"I ask why all the time. They say you're not supposed to ask why. Why my son? There's no answer. God must have wanted him; that's all I know. Now I have an angel and a hero. We all have to die. He'll be there waiting for me."

Mr. Randazzo's expressive face is alternately gloomy, hurt and angry. He misses his fourth son deeply, and he takes the continued existence of Saddam Hussein as a personal affront.

"Like my son, I felt we had to be there and it was just," he said.

"He [President Bush] promised he would take him [Saddam Hussein] down, and he never did that. He's gotten fatter; his mustache is longer; we haven't done a thing to him. . . . God, I hate to fight a war and not win -- never be allowed to win."

Late some nights, Mr. Randazzo said, he drives to the monument on Ritchie Highway. Engraved across the top are the words "So We Do Not Forget." More than anything, perhaps, the Randazzos want their son and his sacrifice to be remembered.

"The way it's lit up, it's so beautiful. I just sit there," Mr. Randazzo said.

He gazed across to where his 8-month-old granddaughter is playing.

"He wanted to see that baby so bad," he said.

Mrs. Randazzo gave her husband a consoling look. "He sees her," she said.

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