3 Stories of Gratitude and Powerful Love

A narrative project called "StoryCorps" illuminates inspiring stories of generosity and love from across the United States.

By Dave Isay from " Ties That Bind"
Also in Reader's Digest Magazine November 2013

Gratefully Yours

Photograph by Robyn Twomey

The Sergeant Was Her Mother: Marilyn Gonzalez, 44, and her daughter, Jessica Pedraza, 21

Marilyn Gonzalez: We did our deployment together. But I was upset with you for a long time because you had the opportunity to stay on base.

Jessica Pedraza: I knew you were going to be upset, but I also knew I’d rather be out there and be the first to know if something happened to you than sit and wait for somebody in dressing forms to come tell me.

For the first three months, we didn’t see each other: I would be on a mission and come back, and then you would be on one. The first time we saw each other over there, I was literally five minutes from leaving on a mission. We shared a quick cry; then I told you to relax, and you told me to be safe.

Marilyn: It was hard to be “Sergeant Gonzalez” with you. Every time I saw you, I wanted to just go up and hug you. But I couldn’t do it.

Jessica: We kept our mother–daughter relationship quiet. But I couldn’t look at you seriously and say, “Sergeant,” so I would sneak in a “Mom” once in a while. And whenever I came back from a mission, my bed would be made, and you’d have a candy bar waiting for me.

Once, I was doing a radio check with you, and I said, “Truck 34, this is Truck 47. How do you copy?” And you said, “It’s a good copy.” And I said, “Roger. I love you.” And I heard you say it right back—you said it really, really quietly, but I caught it.

Marilyn: Whatever little messages I got from you kept me going.

Jessica: You know, I didn’t really have a close relationship with you before Iraq. I felt like the oddball of the five kids. I was the middle child, and I felt like I was kind of on the side.

Marilyn: I felt that you were strong, and you didn’t need me all the time, so it was easier for me to focus on the others. But it wasn’t because I loved you any less.

Jessica: I really got to know you in Iraq. And I know that you were upset that I gave up six college acceptances to do this with you. But being out there with you made me realize that you were there for me. It changed everything.

Marilyn: You’re my daughter, and I love you. But you’re also my battle buddy. And I could never tell you how much it means that you were willing to put your life on the line to be there with me.

Jessica: We have the mother–daughter bond, and we have a soldier’s bond. There’s just nothing more you could ask for.

Recorded on August 11, 2012. Pedraza is now an EMT, and Gonzalez is a machine operator. Both remain active in the National Guard. 

Photograph by Robyn Twomey

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