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Not a happy day for couple

Stephan Mace
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Stephan Mace

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Killing can't bring back fallen soldier

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

Reports of Osama bin Laden's death Sunday gave Larry and Deb Mace a sense of relief, but neither are celebrating the news.

The couple's son, Stephan, 21, and seven other U.S. Army soldiers died during fighting in the Nuristan province of Afghanistan in October 2009. Allied forces sought to find bin Laden, identified as the leader of al-Qaida and mastermind behind the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. U.S. officials announced late Sunday night that a team of Navy SEALs found bin Laden in Pakistan and killed the terror suspect.

"A celebration, to me, is off-putting," Mrs. Mace said by telephone from their home in Frederick County on Monday. "I don't find this to be a celebratory event."

"I don't celebrate the need to have troops overseas," she added. "It's not a happy occasion."

The Maces heard the news Monday morning.

"I have to say initially I was relieved, and then I realized it doesn't change a lot of family members' realities," Mrs. Mace said. "Our reality is we lost Stephan and there are many families in the same position, either in New York or Pennsylvania or the Pentagon, Afghanistan, Iraq."

Her husband also felt relieved, she said.

"Well, I think he felt like it was about time," Mrs. Mace recalled. "He had been waiting for the news for a very long time.

"You know, it doesn't bring Stephan back," she added. "It doesn't bring anyone's loved ones who've passed away back."

The couple had just read a newspaper's list of war casualties.

"We know what it's like to stand and watch the transport boxes come off the planes," Mrs. Mace said. "We don't want any other families to have to go through this."

Mrs. Mace recognizes some people are celebrating bin Laden's death.

"I certainly can understand why there are people who feel most relieved that this chapter is hopefully closed," she said.

The fact U.S. troops found the terror suspect in a city near the capital of Islamabad should set off alarms, according to Mrs. Mace.

"That is of great concern to us -- where we put our trust as a country -- and I really think we need to re-evaluate our relationship with Pakistan," Mrs. Mace said.

Now, she said, the couple worry for her husband's son, Christopher, who has two months left to serve in Afghanistan. Like many people concerned for the safety of troops in the country, the Maces wonder about their fate with bin Laden dead.

"This is on our minds on a daily basis," Mrs. Mace said. "It's a reality that we live with, and we would love to see an end to all of this."

When area families can expect loved ones serving in Afghanistan to return home remains uncertain. Some members of the Virginia National Guard are scheduled to mobilize in May and June, according to Cotton Puryear, communications director for the Virginia Department of Military Affairs. Other troops currently serving on active duty will remain in that capacity, said Puryear, a retired guardsman.

"There's no question it's significant," Puryear said. "The president's already said that, but he also said we've still got work to do. I think it is way too early to tell what the long-term impact is gonna be, but for us the Virginia Guard continues to drive on."

The Maces recognized it took courage for many people over the course of years to accomplish what happened Sunday.

"We are just in awe of the work that our military does," Mrs. Mace said.

The couple spent the weekend in Madison, with Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing Inc.

"So consequences of the last 10 years was very much on our minds this weekend, as we watched young men and women who had been injured, in one way or another in the wars, either in Iraq or Afghanistan, who were in the process of healing," Mrs. Mace said. "That's where our hearts were this weekend."

Healing through helping others remains a goal for the Maces. Bin Laden's death may help some people heal, Mrs. Mace said.

"If this event puts the end of the conflict one day sooner, one day closer, then that's a good thing," she said. "We really would love to see an end to the suffering. "There's a lot of quiet suffering that goes on as a result of all of this so we're just hopeful for better days."

Mrs. Mace offered some words of comfort.

"It is the most challenging life experience I think we've ever faced," Mrs. Mace said. "We've found that there are blessings in great tragedy. You have to look for them, but it is a daily challenge to find the light."

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