Written By Anne Blue

Dorothy Wilkinson was sitting at Greenmount Bowl in Hampstead enjoying her Thursday evening league last December 23, when she felt a touch on her shoulder and heard some soft words about her bowling game.

“You don’t know how to bowl,” the voice whispered.

Wilkinson turned to see the face of her son, Army Sergeant William Cutsail, and screamed for joy. With a leave from his station at Fort Stewart, Georgia, Cutsail had surprised his mother by coming home unannounced. Within seconds, the two of them were wrapped in a bear hug. Applause echoed from all around the bowling alley.

“Total strangers came up to Billy to shake his hand and offer their thanks and appreciation for his service,” said Wilkinson proudly.

Such moments help ease the burden for Carroll Countians with family members in the military. Wilkinson’s son has been in the Army for six years, including a year in Korea, and he left for Iraq in February. Wilkinson thinks he will be there for about a year.

Cutsail’s father was in the National Guard and being in the military was something Billy always wanted to do, recalls his mother. When he was younger, he dreamed of being a pilot and joined the Army after graduating from Westminster High School in 1999. But Cutsail grew to be 6 feet 6 inches tall – too tall for a pilot, chuckles his mother.

To get through the days while Cutsail is in Iraq, Wilkinson tries not to watch any television news. “It’s hard when they tell how many have been killed. I don’t watch any news anymore.”

“He is my youngest and he has a great personality. He is very charming with a wonderful sense of humor and he makes people laugh. He keeps his mom together,” says Wilkinson.

To stay connected to home while he’s gone, Cutsail took family photos, a Maryland state flag, and a Maryland Terrapins blanket with him. He also left his mother with a ring of his that she admired. He put it on her finger before he left and promised that he would come home to get it back from her.

Michael and Lisa Haney of Westminster are experiencing similar separation pains with their son. Pfc. Michael Haney Jr. is part of the Army National Guard’s 1-115th Light Infantry Division, B Company.

“Michael’s company is the first National Guard infantry unit to be called to active duty in the state of Maryland since World War II,” says the senior Haney. “Michael calls them Ôthe ground pounders,’ a mobile unit that goes wherever they are needed.”

Haney’s parents feel very grateful for the excellent training and support their son has received in the guard. According to the senior Haney, Michael is part of a very professional and close-knit unit under the supervision of experienced officers. Michael tells them that B Company, consisting of about 130 soldiers, is well prepared and ready for its responsibilities in Iraq. Michael reported to his parents in February that he will be going to downtown Baghdad, “where all the action is.”

Besides his parents, two younger brothers, a girlfriend, Karen Popp, and two young sons (Cameron and Logan ages 4 and 10 months), await Michael’s safe return. The senior Haney reports that the military did a great job of helping the soldiers and their families prepare for their deployment.

“They held several family days when experts such as counselors, chaplains, and lawyers were available to answer the questions of the soldiers and their family members,” says the senior Haney. “At home, between his notification in November and when he left in early January, we had extensive conversations with Michael. We discussed all the possibilities; he has a will and other necessary legal documents.”

Although the Haney family is realistic, they fully expect
their son to return home and pursue his dream of becoming a police officer. They feel that his high school ROTC experience and his four years in the National Guard should be valuable experience for realizing that dream.

To stay in touch during his deployment in Iraq, Michael relies on Email and the occasional phone call. To keep up their spirits at home, the families of B Company soldiers get together at an armory every few weeks to share news and phone numbers.

“Other families ask how Michael is doing,” says his father. “They are all concerned. It is a more personal level.”

Another set of proud and anxious parents are Jeffrey and Marion Dearth. Their son, Lance Cpl. James Dearth, is with the 5th Civil Affairs Group in the Marine Corp Reserves. He also left for Iraq this spring. Although he is hoping to be home in October, Dearth realizes that his deployment may last as long as 18 months. The tour of duty interrupts his career at McDaniel College in Westminster where he is a sophomore and a member of the Green Terror football team.

Before he left, Dearth spoke of his pride in the Marine Corps and of being ready for the challenges awaiting him in Iraq. “We are very well trained and we are going to do a job we volunteered to do. I am not really afraid; I think it is more of an awareness of the situation. It is important to remember that Iraq is a very serious place,” said Dearth.

Like Cutsail, Dearth has wanted to be part of the military since he was young. He loves physical and mental challenges and chose the Marines because he thought that branch of service would best test his limits.

“We are not a military family,” says his mother, Marion Dearth. “James loves a personal challenge but I always thought he’d grow out of [wanting to join the Marines.] After 9/11 he wanted to join even more. As a parent it is scary, but we are very proud of what he has chosen. I am thankful he has found something he is passionate about.

“An energy surrounds James, a certain vortex goes around him. Things are never quiet when he’s at home,” she says . Her husband, Jeffrey, agrees and says he will miss the pleasure of watching his son play football for McDaniel.

Dearth plans to complete college and officer training when he returns. He hopes to be offered a commission after graduation and fulfill his dream of becoming a military pilot. “Whether you personally support the war or not, these men and women put their lives on the line. We all need to support the troops,” says Marion Dearth. “They put themselves in harm’s way for everyone else.”

To stay connected the Dearths will depend less on telephone conversations and more on Email. The Marine Corps has motomail set up – people back home can send e-mails to a soldier’s regular address and the military receives them at a centralized spot, prints them, and delivers them to the soldiers. It is much faster than regular mail.

The Daytons of Westminster are another Carroll family that relies heavily on e-mail and instant messaging to stay connected. Shelley Dayton and her sons, Cole (12) and Lucas (10), are coping through their second year without their husband and father, Army Reservist, Lt. Col. John Dayton, a member of the 450th Civil Affairs Airborne Battalion. He served in Uzbekistan, a small country north of Afghanistan from August of 2002 until August of 2003. In August of 2004 he was deployed again to Afghanistan, and expects to be there a full year.

“John’s current station is Tarinkowt, a small village in Bin Laden’s hometown,” notes Shelley Dayton. “It is where they planned the attacks on the World Trade Center.”

Lt. Col. Dayton has a laptop computer that he uses to Email and instant message his family daily. Occasionally he can make a short phone call using a satellite phone, but he must go outside and hope for a good signal. Still, he gets frustrated about not being able to help with the day-to-day life of his family.

When they talk, Shelley Dayton tries not to cry. Neither does she send weepy e-mails. “Most of my problems will resolve themselves in a day or two, and I want John to be able to concentrate on his job there. He needs to watch his back and stay safe.”

To get through the days, Shelley tries to stay busy with the boys, their activities, and her part-time job at Mechanicsville Elementary School. For her, the hardest part of the long separation is the evenings. “At the end of the day, no one else comes home, there is no other adult to commiserate with,” says Shelley.

“Friends say they couldn’t do what I do,” says Shelley, “but they could. I have two kids so I have to keep going.”

During her husband’s first deployment, Dayton did not accept help often. “I had to get over that. If people ask, they really do want to help. My friends just keep calling me. It might not be a big deal to them, but it makes a big impact on me. It is a nice feeling to know you have lots of friends who will help.”

Although her boys handle the separation well, Shelley Dayton does worry about what they hear. Sometimes they hear people complain about the war. “It hurts my children. People should think about what they say and who they say it around. Whether the war is right or wrong, it is nice to have positive support for the troops and their families,” says Dayton firmly. The families all concur that they appreciate when friends ask about their service men and women. “It seems so simple, but it really helps,” says Dorothy Wilkinson.

Whether families are celebrating the return of their soldier or coping with loss, whether they dream of having surprise reunions or a reunion at all, Memorial Day will be their time to honor their loved ones with the support of their community. You can join with the many military families participating in one of these Carroll County Memorial Day observances:

Sunday, May 29: Pleasant Valley Community Memorial Day Service. Pleasant Valley Cemetery, 1900 S. Pleasant Valley Rd., Westminster. 1:45 p.m. to 3 p.m. Patriotic walk and service with Wm. F. Myers’ Band. For information, contact Angela Bowersox 410-848-1549.

Monday, May 30: 138th Westminster City Memorial Day Parade and Observance. Pennsylvania Ave., Main St., Church St., Westminster. Parade 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.; Program at cemetery – 11 a.m. If parade is canceled, program will be held at National Guard Armory, Hahn Rd., Westminster. For information, contact Daniel Bohn 410-848-6179.

Monday, May 30: 59th Traditional Memorial Day Observance. Pine Grove Chapel, S. Main St., Mt. Airy. 11 a.m. to Noon. Patriotic ceremony at the historic 1846 Chapel; refreshments follow at the Post home. For information, contact Donald Haines 410-795-0172.

Erik Hayes
November 14, 1980 – November 29, 2004

“He Gave the Ultimate Gift”

It has been almost six months since Army Spc. Eric Hayes was killed while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, but the pain is still fresh for his family.

“He’s just not here any more and it will be difficult for a long time,” said Douglas Hayes, who describes his son Erik as a very respectful and honorable young man.

Erik Hayes served in the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. He was killed in Al Miqdidiyah, Iraq, when the vehicle he was riding in on an evening combat patrol was hit by an explosive device.

Hayes earned a Bronze Star for meritorious service and a Purple Heart for wounds received in battle. At his funeral, Brig. Gen. Roger Nadeau praised Hayes for his “selfless service” and presented his mother, Debora Reckley, with the two medals.

Before he was in the army, Erik grew up in Harney and Thurmont. He was quiet, considerate, and steadfast in his faith and devotion to his family. In 1998 he graduated from Living Word Academy in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania and after high school held jobs ranging from dairy farm to electrical work.

In 2001 he joined the Army hoping to use his veteran’s benefits to get a college education. He had planned to return home to help care for his younger brother, Bradley, who was permanently disabled from injuries suffered in a car accident two years ago, according to an Associated Press story posted on a web site by MilitaryCity.com.

Hayes was killed just two weeks after his 24th birthday and with only a few months left of his army tenure.

Now, when Douglas Hayes receives a request for a photo of his son, it’s not enough to send just one photo. For Carroll Magazine, Hayes carefully bundled up a package that included photos of Erik with members of his family, the official Army condolence letter, copies of his medal certificates, his company medallion, and a letter asking that great care be taken with the items.

The poignancy of his family’s loss is evident in his father’s desire to share these official, yet cherished items that help define Erik Hayes’s life of service, and help his family and others to remember him.

“He was just a good boy doing the right thing – honoring his family and his country- and he paid the ultimate price,” said his father.
– Anne Blue