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The empty spaces back home

The McWHORTERS

A teenager's parents miss the lighthearted letters from their ''Sandman,'' whose Army unit entered Iraq on Thursday.

By DUANE BOURNE
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 23, 2003


photo
[Times photo: Daniel Wallace]
Cindy McWhorter watches coverage of strikes in Iraq.
BROOKSVILLE -- His letters began the same -- positive, with talk of the sand.

"Coming live from the Sandman," he wrote, the envelopes filled with fine sand from the Kuwaiti desert.

"That's so cute," said Cindy McWhorter, 45, the mother of Army Pfc. Joseph McWhorter.

These days, Mrs. McWhorter and her husband, Eddie, would love to get one of those light-hearted missives from their 19-year-old son. But his situation grew more ominous last week as he was moved toward battle.

Joseph McWhorter drives a Paladin tank for the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, one of the first units to cross the southern border into Iraq Thursday. He was forbidden to disclose information about the troop movement, but in his letters he has outlined some of war's "nuisances." He had to get "battle-ready"; put away the Sony PlayStation.

"He didn't like that," said Eddie McWhorter, 47, a retired General Motors Corp. employee.

The nuisances continued.

The toilets were bad. He hadn't taken a shower in five days. But much worse, there were no cigarettes. McWhorter prefers Marlboros.

"The lines are getting longer," he wrote, describing troop buildup.

His mom saves every letter etched with "free mail."

"I miss that he doesn't get to call home," said Mrs. McWhorter, a nurse at Oak Hill Hospital. The family moved last year from Key West, where Joseph graduated from high school.

On June 26, he completed basic training at Fort Sill, Okla. Two weeks later, he got the call to serve overseas. Mrs. McWhorter has been worried ever since.

"I thought it was too early for him (to go)," she said. "But I am okay. I am."

In his letters home, the young soldier displays the same optimism:

"I'll be fine. Not to worry. Life goes on."

-- Duane Bourne covers law enforcement and emergency services in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6114. Send e-mail to dbourne@sptimes.com.

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