Special Segment: Lasting Wounds of War

November 1, 2009 Approximately 3,000 soldiers returned home safely. Eighteen did not. They were killed, most by improvised explosive devices.

ABC7 looks at the life of one Gold Star mother and the lasting wounds of war.

Sue Weinger opened up and shared her life with ABC7, knowing it would be painful and difficult. It was a choice she made on her own.

Her story is sometimes read and watch. It's raw and emotional. But she wants others to see and, even feel, what life is like when a service member is killed in action.

It was a beautiful morning in Woodstock. Across the street from the opera house, yellow ribbons hugged trees, flags decorated the square, and families, holding homemade signs, were anxious for their loved ones to return home from Afghanistan. They had been gone one year. For Sue Weinger, it would be a lifetime.

"I received a call that they were stateside," she said. "My son didn't give me that call, like he did when he came back from Iraq. My son should have been the one to do that, and my son is not coming off that bus."

Weinger's son, Sgt. Robert Weinger of Round Lake Beach, was killed in Afghanistan March 15, along with Sgt. Christopher Abeyta and Specialist Norman Cain. They died when an improvised explosive device hit their vehicle.

It was their unit's homecoming that morning, and it was an agonizing day for Weinger. But, she was there, supporting her son's comrades.

"I was happy for everyone who came home safe but miserable for me because I lost somebody very special to me," the mother said.

It is a loss others acknowledge.

"God bless her," said Joy French, whose grandson returned home. "This has got to be extremely, extremely hard for her to show up for this. Just God bless her."

"They've done their part above and beyond," said Bill Pittz, who also had a grandson to return home.

Weinger represents one family, but in all, 18 Illinois Guardsmen were killed in Afghanistan. When their comrades returned home, they hugged and held the Gold Star families and mothers like Weinger.

"I wanted to let her know that her son meant a lot to me and how great he really was," fellow soldier Sgt. Michael Van der Koon said.

"I couldn't fathom the pain, the pain and the sorrow that they have. I know what I have as my team is gone," said Sgt. Richard Davis, also a fellow soldier.

And that's one reason the general who led Illinois' troops in Afghanistan is visited the Gold Star families.

"I think what's touched me the most is their strength, in just enduring and dealing with that tragedy," said Brigadier Gen. Steven Huber, Illinois National Guard.

The families deal with it, sometimes together. Weinger relies on Norman Cain's mother, Lisa Otto. Together, they move forward.

"Today was a milestone," Weinger said as the soldiers returned. "I did get some closure today."

One day behind them. Another ahead. Days later, Sergeant Weinger was buried a second time. More of his remains had been identified. So, his family held a second service. Another day, another ceremony, even another funeral.

"I'm miserable all the time. I miss my son every moment of the day. Not a day goes by that I don't think of him," said Weinger.

Such is the life of a Gold Star mother: living through one day and hoping to get through the next.

The next event for the soldiers and Gold Star families is Saturday. It's a special tribute for the Illinois troops who served and the soldiers who died.

Sue Weinger says she expects to attend to honor the service members, including her son.

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