Memories help GIs families through holidays

The Ghost of Christmas Past visited the families of two soldiers who spent the holidays in Iraq.

By: Linda Seida
   The Ghost of Christmas Past brought joyful memories to area military families struggling to get through an otherwise bleak holiday season without their children.
   For one local family, whose son is serving in the Marines in Iraq, the specter of years past brought a measure of comfort. For another family whose son is in Iraq with the Army, it brought home their boy’s sense of purpose.
   The Ghost of Christmas Past visited the family of 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Matthew Pittore in the form of a 20-year-old videotape.
   Lance Cpl. Pittore serves with a small crafts company patrolling waterways, and sometimes his company also patrols inland. Not long ago, they patrolled along the Euphrates River.
   "A few weeks ago, he mentioned going south to Mosul," said his mother, Spring Pittore.
   In Mosul last week, a suicide bomber walked into a dining tent. The bomb killed 22 people, including 14 American soldiers.
   "I don’t do the news a lot," Mrs. Pittore said. "I watch considerably less television. I really don’t want to hear about things like Mosul. Every young man over there, they all become your boys. What must their mothers be feeling?"
   The holidays have been tense.
   At the Pittore residence, a fresh Christmas tree sat outside on the deck. A desire to shop for gifts just didn’t exist for Mrs. Pittore, who is employed as a school nurse at West Amwell Elementary School.
   That’s the way things probably would have remained if older son Daniel hadn’t come home to Lambertville for a visit.
   Mrs. Pittore said last week, "Until Daniel came home Tuesday, it was like, ‘Christmas? Who cares?’ Up until then, I was just going through the motions."
   Daniel Pittore, 23, a college student in Maryland, brought home a video the family had taped in 1984. His baby brother, now a fighting Marine, was just a 20-month-old toddler. The grainy images brought home a measure of Christmas spirit.
   "It just really helped," Mrs. Pittore said.
   Lance Cpl. Pittore’s company is frequently on the move, and it doesn’t have a lot of storage space. His family couldn’t send him gifts that needed to be lugged around so they sent him items he can use in the cold temperatures, such as sweaters, gloves and long underwear.
   "One night it got cold and stayed that way," Mrs. Pittore said her son told her of the weather in Iraq.
   Along with their practical gifts, they tucked in a few fun but portable gifts, such as a GameBoy and several games.
   Lance Cpl. Pittore will have to wait until he comes home to see his big gift. His family is having the interior of his "pride and joy," a Corvette, redone.
   They don’t expect him until March, and even that isn’t a sure thing.
   "You can’t stick your hopes too much on it," Mrs. Pittore said.
   The Ghost of Christmas Past visited the family of Army Spc. Mitchell Ege, 20, in the form of a remembrance of a religion class he attended as a fourth-grader.
   He and his classmates were asked to name their favorite Christmas gifts. One boy said his favorite was a dirt bike. A girl named a doll.
   Another boy had been adopted from an orphanage in Romania.
   "He said his favorite gift was when the soldiers brought him chocolate," said Cynthia Ege, Spc. Ege’s mother.
   "That hit home to Mitchell," she said. "Something as simple as that made somebody’s Christmas."
   That experience was one of the things that spurred him to want to make a difference and set him on the path to becoming a soldier.
   He’s trying to show the Iraqis "you can have peace, you can have friends, without penalty," Mrs. Ege said.
   Still, along the way, he’s learned some difficult and painful lessons.
   As he was performing his duties and helping to rebuild a structure, he came to know an Iraqi man who was about his own age. The Iraqi man was earning $6 a day to help rebuild alongside the Americans.
   "He came daily," Mrs. Ege said. "Then, all of a sudden, he didn’t come anymore. They were told, ‘Oh yeah, they killed him for working with Americans.’ So nonchalant. He learned then, you can care, but you can’t get to know these people because you put these people in danger. Not because you don’t want to be their friend, but because you want to protect them."
   As the memory of the Romanian classmate has stayed with Spc. Ege, so, too, have images of the children he meets today in Iraq.
   A little girl, no more than 5 years old, had no shoes. Her feet were cut and bleeding. She was one of the Iraqis he’d been assigned to escort from the gate to a location where they would receive vaccinations.
   "The whole way he could just tell she was scared to death of him," Mrs. Ege said.
   He took the girl to buy a pair of shoes.
   "She jumped off the counter and gave him the biggest hug," Mrs. Ege said.
   But he was later told he shouldn’t have bought the shoes. The family would probably sell them to buy food.
   But like the soldier who gave a child chocolate, Spc. Ege now was glad to do something for a child in Iraq.
   "At least he knew for 15 or 20 minutes of her life, she experienced happiness," Mrs. Ege said.