Ida Ayres never served a day in the armed forces, but she knows a thing or two about the sacrifices of war.
When we think of war and conflict, we think of the men and women who put themselves in harm’s way, as we should. But what about the parents, children, siblings and spouses who are left behind to worry and pray?
“Through four wars, I have been the daughter, sister, wife and mother of men who served their country,” Ida explained to me.
During World War I, Ida’s father, Sam DiRenna, fought for the Italian army. DiRenna, who was born in a small town near Naples, was captured by the Germans and spent four years in a concentration camp. He survived by eating potato peels and garbage scraps. The Germans branded his forehead — a scar he retained for the rest of his life.
Thankfully, he lived. He was declared a hero in Italy for overcoming the brutality. He eventually settled in America. He sent for his wife. They gave birth to Ida and two sons, Angelo and Pasquale. Life was hard during the Depression years, but Ida’s family prevailed.
But then America was thrust back into war — a war in which both of Ida’s brothers would serve. In 1944 Angelo enlisted in the Navy. Pasquale followed in 1945. Angelo was stationed on the LST 1040 and Pasquale served on a carrier.
Their letters home arrived every three or four weeks, then Angelo’s letters stopped coming. Six months passed without a word. Ida was distraught, her mother barely able to function. Finally, word came that Angelo’s ship had been in a typhoon. But he survived.
Both brothers returned home and the world was finally settling down. The economy grew at record rates. Ida eventually would marry and have two sons. Her husband, Harry, had fought in Korea before she met him (he’d doctored his birth certificate and found himself on the front lines as a 16-year-old kid). After they married, he was called to serve another tour in Korea. Thankfully, he returned home safe.
But in 1966, her husband was called back again. This time he left his wife and two sons behind to fight in Vietnam. As an Army major, he was lucky to survive 12 months of dangerous air missions. In one battle his best friend had both arms and legs shot off right next to him.
In 1968, Ida’s oldest son Sam announced he was eager to join his father in Vietnam. Fresh out of high school at 17, Sam enlisted and became a medic. The young man saw some of the worst horrors that that war produced, horrors that are with him still.
Thankfully, both Harry and Sam made it home. Finally, she hoped, life could get back to normal. And for the most part, life did get back to normal. America went on to enjoy an amazing run of prosperity. We were riding high until 9/11, when we were thrust into conflict again.
And now Ida’s youngest son, Col. Tom Ayres, is serving. He is the ranking JAG officer for the Multi-National Corps in Iraq. He’s returned to Iraq on three separate occasions since 9/11 and has served in Afghanistan, as well. He’s left his wife and three children behind for months each time.
The purpose of Memorial Day is to honor the men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country — those who have risked all to protect the freedoms too many of us take for granted.
As we enjoy the Memorial Day weekend — as we enjoy the beginning of summer and the extra day off — we must express our gratitude for the sacrifices so many young men and women have made, and are making, on our behalf. There should be debate on policy, but there is no debate about the sacrifice of these honorable soldiers.
While we’re at it, let’s pay homage to the parents, children, siblings and spouses who are also quietly sacrificing for their country.