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    Waiting for a son's words

    By CHRIS TISCH, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published March 22, 2003

    DUNEDIN -- The kids called Coll McCaffery "The Iceman."

    In sports, he was daring, gutsy and unflinching. He didn't smile much. He stood up to challenges.

    He was homeschooled, earning a diploma as a sophomore. He was attending college, working a job and saving money before most kids leave high school. He bought a condo at 18.

    McCaffery told his parents he was just lucky.

    But for almost two weeks, Bud and Mary McCaffery didn't hear from their son. He had called when he arrived in Kuwait last week, but his parents weren't home. He left a message: Everything was fine. It was pretty there. And that was it.

    Coll McCaffery IV, 19, is a private first class in the 101st Airborne Division. He drives a Humvee that carries four other soldiers and wields missiles, a grenade launcher and .50-caliber machine guns.

    When ground forces began rumbling over the Iraqi border toward Baghdad on Friday, McCaffery's Humvee likely was part of the convoy.

    His parents had sent him care packages of razors, suntan lotion and hard candy, which they figured wouldn't melt in the desert sun. But they knew their son could not respond. He was in battle now.

    Bud and Mary McCaffery are friendly and upbeat. Bud, 51, is retired. Mary is 48 and a registered nurse. They are moving from Indian Rocks Beach to a Dunedin condo. The condo their son bought is in the same complex. While McCaffery defends a nation, his father is fixing it up.

    His photos have been set up in his parents' new condo before much of their furniture. They try not to worry.

    "If you let yourself think of all the scenarios, you'd go crazy," Bud McCaffery says. "We think of how proud we are of him."

    It surprised them when their son announced, two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, that he was joining the Army. He liked the opportunity: money for college; a potential career; lots of challenges.

    His parents supported him. He was in basic three months later. In November, it became apparent he was probably going overseas to fight.

    His calls home were regular. But now, nothing.

    They hoped he would figure a way to get them a message. He was always good at that. When he was in basic training, he snagged a security job that earned him phone privileges to call home.

    Luck, he would say.

    But what his mom and dad wouldn't have given for a little luck this week. Not hearing from their son was hard. Especially at bedtime, when the thoughts of bombs and bullets have time to sink in.

    Then something happened Thursday.

    The couple was watching the news, which they have been doing 16 hours a day since the war began. A reporter was on from McCaffery's division.

    The reporter slipped out of his gas mask. So did a soldier hunkered down behind him.

    The face was familiar. So was a rare smile. And whether McCaffery knew it or not, he got a message home.

    "You could see a smile crack across his face," his mother says. "It was a relief to see him."

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