Parents of Iraq Casualties Comfort Each Other

Two parents who recently lost their children in the Iraq war when their vehicle was bombed on May 19th express their sympathies to each other. Lanna McDonald is the mother of Pfc. Travis Haslip, and Ronnie Medlin is the father of Sgt. Gene Paul Medlin.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

A little more than halfway through this deadly month, some U.S. troops were on a routine patrol. They were driving in Baghdad May 19 when a roadside bomb exploded and six Americans were killed. Nobody knows what each soldier's family is going through except, maybe, the other families. Yesterday, two of their parents got on the phone with each other: Ronnie Medlin and Lanna McDonald. And they agreed to let us listen.

Mr. RONNIE MEDLIN: Ms. McDonald.

Ms. LANNA MCDONALD: Yes, sir.

Mr. MEDLIN: My name is Ronnie Medlin. I'm Paul Medlin's son - I mean daddy. I can't even think anymore.

Ms. MCDONALD: I understand.

MONTAGNE: Lanna McDonald is the mother of 20-year-old Private First Class Travis Haslip. She and her family buried Travis on Memorial Day in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Ronnie Medlin is the father of 27-year-old Sergeant Paul Medlin. His body arrived in Trussville, Alabama, on Tuesday, where his father and family have gathered.

Mr. MEDLIN: We've had a lot of people come by and a lot of people come by. It's going to be the Saturday before his funeral. As a matter of fact, I just made the arrangements.

Ms. MCDONALD: I'm so sorry. And they do send you a casualty officer. We had a casualty officer that came later the same day we were informed, and he was on call 24/7. He helped us through all the paperwork and he was wonderful.

Mr. MEDLIN: Same thing with me, it's a sergeant first class that came after those other two officers left. He took me to the airport. He didn't want to be left me there at the airport, he said, when you get back, call me and I'll come back and get you.

INSKEEP: And as we listened to two parents communicate with each other about their loss, we learned how the parents communicated with their children.

Mr. MEDLIN: They had phone cards. They were stationed right out of Baghdad. They had phones there somewhere and he who would call me, which was usually early in the morning because of the time difference. The only thing he told me is that it's not a place that you would want to be and it was getting worse.

Ms. MCDONALD: Right.

Mr. MEDLIN: And that was the last time I talked to him. Like I always did, I told him, take care of yourself and I'll talk to you later.

Ms. MCDONALD: And I've had my cell phone on me all the time, 24/7. The last day I talked to him was on Mother's Day. He called me and wanted - he felt bad because he hadn't sent me anything for Mother's Day, and I told him that listening to his voice was the best present a mother could have, you know, of course. And two days later, I got a package in the mail. He had ordered me an iPod in the mail. He bought me a nice one, too, it wasn't just a little cheap one like I would have got. He was a generous son.

MONTAGNE: Lanna McDonald last spent time with her son Travis Haslip in March. He was on leave for his 20th birthday. Between dinner at a local Italian restaurant and walks together around the neighborhood, she asked her son whether he thought he was making a difference in Iraq.

Ms. MCDONALD: I don't really remember the straight answer that I got. It's just kind of like, you know, the insurgents are the ones fighting against each other. And that was, you know, the main gist of it. I don't know if I've thought beyond it. It's still so new. I felt like my son wanted to fight for his country, and that's what he did.

Mr. MEDLIN: It's just like anybody else's son, (Unintelligible) in the military or painting a house.

Ms. MCDONALD: That's right.

Mr. MEDLIN: You know, they knew those things could go wrong, but they still kept on.

Ms. MCDONALD: That's right.

Mr. MEDLIN: Ma'am, I know what you're going through and I know what you feel. Hang in there.

Ms. MCDONALD: Right. You'll be in our prayers and God bless you all.

INSKEEP: Lanna McDonald and Ronnie Medlin are the parents of two Americans killed in Iraq this month. And as their conversation took place yesterday, another of the men killed in that incident, Private First Class Alex Varela, was buried in Fair Oaks, California.

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