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03-20-03: So far away and so close to danger
The Daily Standard
    A mixed bag of emotions overcame several local families overnight as bombs began dropping in Baghdad late Wednesday evening.
    Linda Linger of Celina said memories of her two sons boarding a school bus years ago came flashing back as she heard the news. Both of Linger's sons are stationed in "hot spots" in the Middle East: Corey Kohnen, 23, has been in Kuwait for nearly six weeks; Jonathon Kohnen, 21, remains in Afghanistan where he was sent Nov. 22.
    "They are where they want to be," Linger said proudly of her sons. "They keep telling me they have to do this to take care of all of us."
    Linger said she didn't know if she wanted to tune in to television coverage last night or not when she heard the war had begun, "but I was drawn to it like fire."
    Linger said she's more concerned about Corey right now because of where he's at. But then she reminded herself of a picture recently posted on Yahoo! News of Jonathon and another soldier bringing in a Taliban soldier as part of Operation Viper. She has a copy of the picture, she said. It makes her proud - and scares her to death.
    Becky Steinbrunner of Celina choked back tears this morning as she described her reaction to the U.S. attacks on Iraq.
    "My first thought was 'Oh dear Lord, help us,' " Steinbrunner said this morning from her home on East Forest Street.
    Her son, Jeremy, 28, is stationed in Japan awaiting orders. Her son-in-law, Paul Burnett, 25, a 1995 Celina High School graduate, has been in the Persian Gulf since July 2002 aboard the USS Shiloh.
    "They're scared," she said fighting back tears. "On one hand they're your children and you want to reassure them. On the other hand, they're grown men serving their country and they're trying hard not to show their fear, and you know it."
    Jeremy called home as his mother was being interviewed by The Daily Standard. He's ready to go to the Persian Gulf, Kuwait, wherever they send him, she said he told her.
    "The last time I saw him (Jeremy), he was 25. Now he's 27. Only the Lord knows for sure where he'll be tomorrow," she said. "I told him to pray."
    It hurts deeply to see people carrying signs, protesting the war, she said.
    "I want to tell them it's my son and son-in-law putting their lives on the line so you have the right to hold that sign," Steinbrunner  said.
    The announcement that war had begun also brought relief, she said.
    "At least we're not in this limbo stage anymore. It's started. There's an end in sight," she added.
    Paul Burnett's father, Homer Burnett of Celina, said having his son overseas right now has brought back memories of his own days in Vietnam.
    "My father served in the second World War and I remember when I was going off to 'Nam. He told me, 'I'd give my right arm to go in your place, son.' Now I know how he feels," said Burnett, a U.S. Air Force veteran.
    Paul Burnett called his father immediately following President Bush's speech late Wednesday evening from his ship at sea, and told his family all is well. But news that some of the missiles attacking Baghdad came from ships in the Gulf, has the Burnett family worried once again.
    "Tonight we're going to pray for his safety at a special service at Grace Missionary (in Celina)," Burnett said. "It's all we can do right now."
    Dory Westgerdes said her 30-year-old son, Greg Heitkamp, left Germany six weeks ago and is reportedly in the Kuwait region with his engineer battalion. Heitkamp, married with two children, has been in the service since he graduated from Celina High School in 1990, but this is the first time he's been sent into combat, his mother said.
    "I'm not sleeping very much now," she said this morning. "But it does ease my mind knowing he's doing exactly what he wants to do. That's Greg."


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