Monday, November 13, 2006
Husband, wife receive Purple Hearts
What do you do if you are a husband and wife who are both in the military, who are both going to get orders to go to Iraq, but who also have children? In most cases, what happens is that the couple will make sure they don't go at the same time, so one parent can take care of the kids. And in almost all cases, the Pentagon will oblige, recognizing the hardship involved. But sometimes the issue is more complicated than that.

For tonight's program, we decided to do a story on married parents who went to Iraq at the same time instead of serving separately. And we found a most interesting example. Eric and Heidi Erickson are from Central City, Nebraska. They are both in the Army Reserve and they have three children; boys who are 10 and 4, and a girl who is 8.

Heidi is a gun truck driver and got her orders to go before Eric, who drives a truck that hauls armor. They realized if she went, and then Eric went after she came home, they wouldn't see each other for two-to-three years. But then they thought about the fact that all four grandparents live in the same small town. And if they went to Iraq together, they could both be home in about a year, and perhaps, occasionally see each other in Iraq. So they made the decision to go.

But there was problem -- both husband and wife were wounded in separate incidents.

On a mission to the front lines, Eric encountered massive gunfire. The blasts shattered his eardrums. He did not tell his family back in Nebraska, and although he regularly communicated with his wife in Iraq, he didn't want her to worry, so he didn't tell her either. Meanwhile, 12 days later, when Heidi was driving her truck, a vehicle on the side of the road next to her blew up. The explosion sprayed glass and wreckage, lacerating her face. Heidi too had to go to the hospital, and also told no family members. For weeks, the husband didn't know the wife was hurt and the wife didn't know the husband was hurt.

They both recovered and ultimately went home. Eric first; then Heidi. They had tearful reunions with the children they love so much, and their parents. Just last month, both of them received Purple Heart awards.

Eric and Heidi told us that although it was hard to leave their children, they felt it was the right decision for them because of the care the children's grandparents could provide. Nevertheless, they weren't surprised when their three children told us that not only did they miss their parents, but they were also scared.

We were particularly touched when talking to their daughter Taylor. The little girl had a big smile on her face when we started our conversation. She was so glad her parents were back home and that her life was back to normal. But suddenly, tears just started flowing down her face. I asked her why, and she told us it was because of her memories of her mommy and daddy being away.

Eric and Heidi may have been wounded, but they are still active members of the Army Reserve. And interestingly, they say they both expect to be called back to duty in Iraq. What will they do when that happens? They told me they believe the war is a noble cause, and they say they are ready to serve their country in Iraq once again. I expected that answer from this patriotic couple. But I wasn't sure what they would say to me when I asked if they would both go together again. Their answer was "yes."
Posted By Gary Tuchman, CNN Correspondent: 1:13 PM ET
  32 Comments
Hi Gary~
What an interesting and moving story. Eric and Heidi are very dedicated and I admire their patriotism. Both are heros. However, I question the decision to leave behind three children, even with family. Eight year old Taylor's comments brought tears to my eyes. I have to wonder what trauma and anxiety this could be causing the children. There could possibly be lasting effects that these children will have to deal with the rest of their lives. I hope the children recieve counseling so they can better deal with both of their parent's absence to be involved in a war. The ages of these children 10, 8, and 4, are critical in development and lack the coping abilities needed to deal with this situation. Thank you for this very unique story. I look forward to seing it on tonight's 360~
Posted By Anonymous Betty Ann, Nacogdoches TX : 1:49 PM ET
This is an amazing story. You really have to admire these people, because their dedication seems to be undying. As someone who believes this war has been stretched out too long, I am reminded that there are those among us who believe we are serving a purpose in Iraq. I'm not sure if I believe this, but at the same time I respect this couple's loyalty. It's truly humbling. Their children are equally brave.
I'm glad CNN has continued to cover stories like these. You don't let us forget that there are families suffering through this war both abroad and here in the States. These are the things we all need to be reminded of. This has definitely become a hallmark of Anderson Cooper's work-that steadfast determination not to let us forget...and we never should.
Posted By Anonymous Debbie Darby, Denham Springs, LA : 2:01 PM ET
What a difficult decision for those parents, especially with the risk that their children may be left with neither parent. It's such a rare thing that children would have 4 grandparents in the same city -- there's security in having such an extended family, especially at such times. I'm sure the children were indeed scared while their parents were away, and I think they too deserve medals for bravery! Especially after remembering veterans of wars this weekend, I never cease to be amazed at the bravery and the sense of duty of soliders, both men and women, and the sacrifices they make.
Posted By Anonymous Vicky, Ottawa, ON : 2:04 PM ET
I have a 6 year old g'daughter who still refuses to talk to her daddy on the phone. We attribute it to her 'silent protest' even as she wore camo and played with GI Joes and made pictures to send.

Does anyone besides me think that in a nation of 300,000,000 that it says a whole lot about the 'Support our Troops' flag wavers that so few keep serving and serving?
Posted By Anonymous linda, bella vista,ar : 2:14 PM ET
I think this is the stuff that CNN should be covering, actual real news about actual real people who go above and beyond, not vacuous celebrities *cough*Madonna, Britney, Angelina *cough*who engage in publicity stunts disguised as news.

Finally!
Posted By Anonymous Em, Toronto, Ontario, Canada : 2:16 PM ET
Dear Gary,

As usual, another excellent post.

It is obvious that Eric and Heidi Erickson are dedicated soldiers who believe that the war is a noble cause, and I applaud them for their service. However, although I am not a parent, I can't help feeling that raising their children is also a noble cause. I can only imagine what little Taylor and her siblings will go through if once again their parents decide to serve together. You didn't mention it, but are the children getting any help with these issues?

"Coming Home" is the logical follow up to Saturday's intense "Combat Hospital." I am sure it will remind us all that the war is never over for these courageous individuals and their families. Thanks again, take care.

Jo Ann
Posted By Anonymous Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 2:30 PM ET
Although I don't exactly agree with the war being on. I think that this is a moving and excellent story that has a lot of human incredibility to it.
Posted By Anonymous Ann, Mobile and Alabama : 2:34 PM ET
I'd say we'd be in more trouble if fine citizens such as the Ericksons didn't step up to protect all of us. They possess something that most of us don't - altruism.

p.s. God Bless all Purple Heart recipients for their bravery. My brother PVC John A Klaric was shot in the head by hostile enemy fire, survived it, and received a Purple Heart medal.
Posted By Anonymous xtina - Chicago, IL : 2:36 PM ET
This story is very moving and inspirational but, this is a commitment that our country should not allow during any conflict that is not on our native soil. I wholeheartedly agree with there patriotism but, I see no reason why duty can't be split between them. I believe that you have to keep one parent in the country to help the children adjust to the other parent being away. It's tougher on children then I think anyone realizes. I know that when I travel my son calls for me and gets upset when I'm not home at my normal time. Children are sponges and they absorb everything around them. Being a parent and leaving your child at a young age is the hardest thing in the world to do. It's very admirable and irresponsible at the same time.
Posted By Anonymous Rob, Sarasota FL : 2:49 PM ET
Please tell this couple thanks from the bottom of my heart for the sacrafice they made. I pray they don't have to return to Iraq once was enough. Mary Walsh Spikereit Bronx, N.Y.
Posted By Anonymous Mary Walsh Spikereit Bronx,New York : 2:55 PM ET
Indeed, they took on a noble cause, they served their country. The Iraq war is still, in my opinion, an illegitimate war, but that's another story. They were both lucky to come back alive to be with their children, but what if they didn't? Or what if they served a second time and one or both are killed? What if you ran a separate story, also with a married couple with small kids, but both were killed, and what if you relayed that story to Eric and Heidi? Would their answer still be "yes" if they were both called upon to serve in Iraq again? Remember there are small kids involved here. It's easy to say "yes" until something actually happens to you. If I were one of their kids and something happens to them, the illegitimacy of this war makes the whole thing harder to swallow.
Posted By Anonymous Lilibeth, Edmonds, WA : 2:55 PM ET
God bless those children and their parents. I hope real soon they are all together permanently.
Posted By Anonymous Mitzi Las Vegas, NV : 2:56 PM ET
what a tear jerking story! I think it's a great decision that they made. I hope the kids will be strong like there parents!
thank you gary!
Posted By Anonymous Jemillex Bacerdo Chicago, IL. : 3:16 PM ET
Mr. Tuchman,

I look forward to your story this evening. I suspect another tear or two this evening.

In a previous post on this blog, I once said that some us want more on TV than Dancing with the Stars. We want information and news that is heart warming, gut wrenching and factual.

Low and behold, Sunday night we had LKL --- Dancing with the Stars on CNN!!! I am now hoping 360 gets enough funding to go 7 days a week with John King, Erika Hill or Rick Sanchez as the weekend anchor.
Posted By Anonymous Renee Bradenton, FL : 3:17 PM ET
These soldiers are unquestionably deserving of their Purple Hearts. These are true Americans who should make us all think just a little bit about the great sacrafices that are being made for this country. We are all blessed to have individuals like the Ericksons setting an example for selflessness as they fight in the name of America. I pray that this story is one of the many that inspires everyone to think of what they may have to risk sacraficing in order to find a solution to this war. No excuses.
Posted By Anonymous Kendall, West Orange, NJ : 3:20 PM ET
Most dual-military couples with children that are pending deployment at the same time don't get to "decide" whether they both should go, or if one should stay. Reservists may get that choice, but Active soldiers don't. Both my husband & I were deployed to Iraq at the same time with 5 children under the age of 11. We weren't the exception, we were the norm. If given the choice, we both would not have chosen to deploy at the same time especially not during the initial "Race to Baghdad". Thank God we both made it back unharmed, but our kids worried about us constantly and their grades dropped in school. Our youngest son started wetting the bed. When we were told a year later we would have to go back to Iraq, I decided to leave the military rather than having the both of us leave our kids again.
Posted By Anonymous Julie C., Hinesville, GA : 3:44 PM ET
I think it was selfish of them to both go together, given the choice. Sure they wouldn't see each other, but what if something happened to both of them and their children were left orphaned. They need to think of the children first before themselves.
Posted By Anonymous j, cleveland, oh : 4:00 PM ET
My first response to this story was not a nice one... Try as I might, I can't fanthom leaving children under the age of 12 home while both parents participate in this war, as Army reservists... Their story is not typical... They had a choice, not see each other for a couple of years, or have their three children not see either one of their parents for one year... They risked their lives and the children's wellbeing for this war? They, having a choice, chose the war? So now, the grandparents, the children and the parents have made the sacrifices... Personally, I think the army should not allow parents to participate in the war at the same time, with children at home if there is another way... It was not a good decision, it forced the grandparents to raise their grandchildren, and it forced the children into mental anguish that just wasn't necessary and of which they will carry for the rest of their lives...
Posted By Anonymous Shery sarasota fl : 4:02 PM ET
As a Retired Marine, I know that the Military has a policy in place that will bring home an only surviving Son in the event a Sibling or Siblings are KIA. What policy is in place for the Children of both Parents serving our Country during time of War? With a population as large as 300,000,000 it is hard to believe that anyone would have to go back a second time. The X generation needs to develop a back bone and step up to the plate. If that comment hurts some feelings, read the book "1776". Every Soldier,Sailer,Airman and Marine will tell you that this is about the future of our Childeren. We either face it now over there, or later here on our soil. Less we forget the WTC, Pentegon and Shanksville.....
Posted By Anonymous Michael Napper Ellettsville, IN : 4:27 PM ET
What is interesting is that these two had some level of choice in when they went to Iraq. The military does its best to take care of those who volunteer, but in the end they all realize that once they volunteer they go when and where the country needs them. American servicemen don't choose who, where, and when they fight. They fight who, where, and when they are told to fight, and when they fight, they fight to win.
Posted By Anonymous Ray, Virginia Beach, VA : 4:27 PM ET
I am not going to criticize the parents for choosing to be deployed together in order to have them both home, and together with their children, sooner. They made a tough choice - neither solution was ideal. I know that my mom had to leave me with an aunt from the time I was only three weeks old to the time I was almost a year because she chose to go and be with my dad at the Army hospital in Texas. He was very badly burned in Vietnam and they didn't think he would survive. She made a very difficult choice and left me and went to be with him (and thankfully he did survive). She felt she couldn't care for me and be at the hospital all day supporting him. Obviously I don't remember any of this. All I know is that I now have an aunt I am very close to. I know these kids are older and will remember a lot more, but hopefully they will also develop close relationships with their grandparents and remember how grandma and grandpa stepped in to help when mom and dad had to go away. I wish them the best in the future and hope they don't have to face this choice again.
Posted By Anonymous Heidi, Bethesda, Maryland : 4:29 PM ET
Mr. Tuchman:
I cannot imagine the tough choices the Ericksons made and what they've had to endure bravely, nor the pain their children and families feel. What I do know is that I am extraordinarily grateful to the tens of thousands of brave women and men like the Ericksons who put their lives on the line in service to our country every day both at home and abroad (with extreme appreciation to their families too). I do not condone nor believe in this aggression but I have never ever waivered in my faith in and support of our troops. These people, our brothers and sisters have my undying gratitude - again with special thanks going to their families for their support. I believe another poster said - we need more stories like this and less "celebrity" ones - and I say DITTO.
Thank you again for sharing their story.
Posted By Anonymous Stephanie H., Brooklyn, NY : 5:02 PM ET
I agree with Shery. I have 3 little kids, ages 8, 6, and 2. I would NEVER desert them while they are this little for ANY reason, let alone to risk my life to fight in a war orchestrated to line the pockets of Big Oil, and Mr. Bushs' friends at good ol' Halliburton. I work full time, and that puts an emotional strain on my kids and a guilt on my heart that is almost unbearable. These people are damaging their childrens' life long emotional well being in exchange for their own personal glory. Although they may be brave, they are fools.
Posted By Anonymous still waiting to see WOMD's in mpls, mn : 5:50 PM ET
I agree this is a patriotic and dedicated couple but I too question their intention to again leave three children without either parent if they are called up again. The first separation clearly made its mark on their young daughter and I think it will likely end with issues about abandonment, security, and trust. Grandparents, no matter how wonderful, are grandparents. They just aren't mommy and daddy. There is NO reason this country should have to send two parents to war at the same time PERIOD.
Posted By Anonymous Karen S., Novato, CA : 8:21 PM ET
Hi Gary
I think it was all well and good for the Ericksons to serve their country by going to Iraq together for that one year. The kids probably loved having their grandparents around and I'm sure the grandparents loved every minute of it. However I feel they're pushing it by saying they will both go back again together if they are deployed again. How is that fair to the children or the grandparents? Kids really need their parents during their young years and the added stress of being afraid for their parents is just too much for them.
The Ericksons tempted fate once, I think they owe it to their children and their parents to either stay home or go one at a time.
Posted By Anonymous Bev Ontario Canada : 9:16 PM ET
First, I commend the Ericksons for their loyalty to their country. That kind of patriotism is rare nowadays.

Also, I'd like to point out that they are parents as well, and while there are other soldiers who can fight for their country, there are no other people who can be parents to the Ericksons' 3 little children. I hope the parents have given that factor a lot of thought, especially since there is always a chance that one or both of them will be killed in the war. Also, separation is always very difficult for families, particularly for kids, and the effects will be apparent sometimes years later.

I hope the Ericksons remember that their being parents changes things and any parent who cares about his children would do what is best for the little ones, even if it means not being able to stay in the frontlines in defending the country.

All the best to this family.
Posted By Anonymous Diana, Manila, Philippines : 12:35 AM ET
What an appropriately timed story to rekindle the American spirit of patriotism and duty! More of us need to embrace that attitude of service and sacrifice.
The Erickson�s are to be commended for their actions in not only protecting our country, but for thinking of their family first. With the extended family becoming more of a rarity than the norm in today�s American society, it�s difficult for many of us to imagine leaving young children under these circumstances, but the fact is that these parents discerned what would work best for their family long-term by making the necessary sacrifices and trusted their children�s care to their grandparents. I�m sure that through this family�s experience, they have been blessed with more intimacy, gratitude and courage to face whatever other challenges life may bring!
Posted By Anonymous Selene, Lake Charles, LA : 1:39 PM ET
I am glad to see this story and I truly respect the Ericksons for what they did. Many do not have a choice however; they tell you to have a family care plan or there's the door. My husband and I are both active duty and face these challenges every day. I knew what I signed up for when I was 19 years old and I stand by that with or without children. There are people out there dying every day and didn't whine about going; they just go. We've endured being gone at the same time when the war in Iraq kicked off 4 years ago. Granted I was only 11 hours from my baby and safe on America soil but it was scary nonetheless. My husband wasn't so lucky. I have a few more years of service before my enlistment is up; I choose to get out because our children do need one of us to be there. We aren't blessed with a backup system for our children so I must ultimately put my family first.
Posted By Anonymous Marisa, San Antonio, TX : 11:00 AM ET
I am glad they both served their country, as I and in combat, but it was big mistake for both of them to serve in a combat area at the same time. What would have happened if bothy were killed? Then what about the children then?
Posted By Anonymous Bill North Chicago, IL : 11:53 AM ET
Once again, for most of you who DON'T know, it's not always a choice. Talk to your congressmen if you don't want both parents going off to war at the same time.
Posted By Anonymous K Sands Colorado Springs, CO : 5:01 PM ET
I commend this family for getting thru the first deployment and I hope for the childrens sake there isn't another one. If there is I hope that the parents decide to split it up so one can stay home with the children. I respect their commitment to one another because there is nothing better than to have your spouse close to you in a time like that, I didn't get that chance. However, nothing comes close to having your mom or dad tuck you into bed at night. Best of luck to you and your family and you know what's best for all of you. Happy Thanksfgiving. I'm Glad you were both able to be there to receive your purple hearts.
Posted By Anonymous Keri Christensen Oakwood Hills, IL : 5:18 PM ET
I keep hearing about redeployment to Iraq after serving a year in Iraq. The chances of survival on second and third Iraq tours are much lower.

After serving a year+ in Iraq, any further service should be stateside. If someone wants to volunteer to go back to Iraq, that's their business. But to force soldiers to go back there over and over again, because there are not enough troops is wrong.

Bring all the troops home -OR- Bring back the draft, so there are enough troops and the burden is equally shared by all citizens. Then families like these know if they survive a year+ in Iraq, they don't have to go back.
Posted By Anonymous Laurette, Carrollton, TX : 2:32 PM ET
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