Waiting For Dad's Return

Early Show Correspondent Tracy Smith met a 10-year-old boy trying to be brave for himself and his family, Fort Benning Army Base in Georgia, better than 10-year-old James Hertig
CBS/The Early Show
At Fort Benning, Ga., Early Show Correspondent Tracy Smith found thousands of spouses and children who are awaiting word that their loved ones are safe.

But no one summed up the emotional battle they wage daily - and one for which there is no formal training - better than 10-year-old James Hertig.

"I picture him more dying than coming home,' the boy told Smith about his father, "but I'm trying to conquer my fear. And make my fear be like zero and him coming home 100 percent. But the fear is trying to conquer over my happiness."

He has heard about the weapons Saddam Hussein has. "Nuclear bombs and nerve gas. If I could write a letter to President Bush, I'd say, 'Kill Saddam Hussein and get back to home,'" he says.

His mother, Sarah Hertig, says flipping through the family album has become a comforting ritual for her children. It's the only place they can go to see daddy - a deployed soldier, in the Army's Third division infantry.

Sarah Hertig admits to sadness: "Maybe it's because I know that threat against him is so real," she says. "I ache, because I miss him so much. I go into the closet and I hug his clothes and I'll have a little cry."

The tears don't last long. Her mission at home is to put up a strong front for her three kids. Being a single parent, she says, is "the hardest thing I've ever done. It's a challenge every day and it's something new every day. That's just what I do. I run on autopilot, and that's what I have to do."

And even blurry pictures from the battlefield on television are strangely therapeutic. "It's a lifeline for me, I'm able to stay attached to him through this TV screen, in a very odd way," she says.

James see it differently; he hates war coverage on TV. "She watches the news everyday, " he says, "Like, 'Mom, I don't want to know what's happening to Dad over there,'" he says.

To help kids like James cope, Fort Benning schools offer deployment classes to counsel kids.

And many families have found distractions are the best medicine. Sarah Hertig works on base, helping new families adjust to military life, and leads a Scout troop.

"That is my stress relief,"she says. "People ask me what I do for fun. And I say I go play with 10 5-year-olds every other week, and just go and be silly, and have fun."

For the Hertig family and their neighbors, each day that passes is one day closer to a reunion with their loved ones.

In fact, Sarah Hertig says, planning for the troops' homecoming party started when the war began.

It's the same at bases across America. The hopes are as high as the anxieties at the home of the 101st airborne division at Fort Campbell, Ky., reports CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara.

"No sleep - a lot of explaining to the kids to do. That daddy might not come home as soon as we thought he would," says military wife Sheryl Snapp. She keeps the picture of her husband Frank close to her heart.

"I have the dog tag that he gave me. He had these made for me to keep with me and close, a reminder," she says.

With 19,000 Fort Campbell's troops in the war zone, reservists are arriving for processing, getting thing slike like the medical attention necessary for them to join the fighting.

Sgt. Rick Mullins is one of seven Tennessee reservists headed for the war zone with his son. He promised his wife their son Jeff would come home, even if it meant giving his own life.

"I guarantee you. No question in my mind. He'll come home before I will, if I have anything to say about it," Mullins says.

Dozens of soldiers were married by Christian Court Judge Steve Tribble just before they left for the gulf. "It was a hectic day," he says looking at names he logged in his agenda. His fear is some of those names could appear on casualty lists.

"I mean there may be several of them that don't come back," he says.

Seamstress Marilyn Fry's brother was killed in the first Gulf war. "This is his war patch. And I keep it with me all the time," she says showing it to the cameras. Now she works twelve hours a day sewing airborne patches to uniforms for another desert conflict.

"We never got to say good-bye. But you get over it. I mean you don't get over it. But you deal with it," she says.