It started out innocuously enough.

Elizabeth, our assignment editor, called out, “Su, do you speak Korean?”

“Yes,” I answered. “Why?”

“The woman on the phone needs someone who can speak Korean.”

So… I picked up the phone.

The woman on the other end introduced herself and gave me her background.

She had raised two sons alone, after her husband left years ago.

She was proud that she’d never needed welfare. 

She’d never used food stamps.

She’d worked several jobs at once to pay off a house. 

Her sons were fine young men.

Until her eldest, just 19, left a note and vanished.

What kind of note?  I asked.

A suicide note, she said frantically.

At which time, someone else picked up the phone and yelled, “It’s not a suicide note!”

The other son had joined the conversation.

He was nasty to me.  I understood.  He had a hatred for all things media.

But I was not going to take his tone, especially toward his mother, so I admonished him.

“Do not disrespect your mother like that, especially in front of a stranger.”

He hung up.

She called back. 

Talked some more.

I asked her to read me the “suicide note.”

It turned out to be one of the most eloquent letters I’ve ever heard, written by a 19 year old.

It paid homage to his mother’s love. 

To her amazing work ethic. 

To the love she gave him and his brother as she worked to keep a roof over their heads.

Her voice cracked and she started crying as she read it.

I could feel the tears in my own eyes.

After she finished, I asked to speak to the other son again.

I wanted to get a sense of this family. 

He refused at first, then he got on the phone.

I told him how amazing I thought his family was; how well-written his brother was; how loving their mother is—so desperate to keep her son out of harm’s way.

I told him that I would not be splashing their story on TV, that I recognized in his mother  my own mother, from similar backgrounds.  Both worked hard to raise families, but in my case, my father DID stay around.   

I told him his brother sounded like a wonderful person, and that her heartbreak broke my own heart.

“You don’t know anything about my mother!” he shouted, after a long silence. 

His mother got back on the phone.

Sadly, I told her that there was nothing I could do to keep him out of the Army.

He was legitimately recruited.

He was 19 years old.

She sobbed, “Going into the Army will kill him.”

I could not reassure her that that was not the case, since I had 2 stories in my show  THAT VERY NIGHT about two young soldiers killed – one – just 19 years old.

When I told her I could not help them, she grew quiet then thanked me for listening.

Then she hung up.

I cried helpless tears of heartbreak for her; for all the faceless mothers who feel that same desperation about their sons and daughters, joining the military, only to face dangerous and uncertain futures.

And I wondered if I will one day join their ranks.

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