BAGHDAD - A Massachusetts Soldier deployed to Iraq got a precious few moments to speak with family members Sunday - in front of an audience of more than 1,500 people.
Staff Sgt. John Heenan, combat historian, 126th Military History Detachment, spoke with family members live via satellite during the Memorial Concert and Tribute to Today's War Heroes at Mechanics Hall in Worcester, Mass.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Peter Pace introduced Heenan during the event. Heenan spoke with his grandmother, Florence Dancause, his mother, Marie Heenan, and his father, retired Army Master Sgt. Michael Heenan.
"Hi, son, you look so good," said Marie. "It's so good to see your face. And if my eyes are red and my make-up is smudged, it's because this ceremony has been so emotional and beautiful. I love you. So many people went through so much work to make this happen and I just want to thank them."
Heenan's mother also added his cousin Amy gave birth to a baby boy Oct. 11. Heenan's father then had a chance to speak.
"I'm very proud of you," said Michael. "It's a father's wish to be a hero to his son, but you're my hero. I love you."
Heenan's father added some fatherly advice for his son.
"Hey, stay safe," said Michael. "Now is the time to keep watching and remember - if it looks too easy, it isn't."
"By the way, I'm collecting on (a year's worth of) hugs," added Marie.
After the family members talked to their loved one, Pace then gave Heenan a few choices of things to do with his remaining time in the spot light.
"We've got about 1,500 of your fellow citizens from Massachusetts gathered here," said Pace. "You can either a.) Take this opportunity to tell the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff what it is you told your buddies last night, if you ever had a chance, you were going tell him or b.) Choose to say something to your fellow citizens from Massachusetts or c.) Both of the above. The microphone is yours."
Heenan chose a little of both.
"I'd like to thank everybody back home for all the support they're giving all the Soldiers," said Heenan. "We really appreciate your support and it means a lot to us. General Pace, it means a lot to us, the support we are getting from our "higher-ups" back home in this war."
Heenan added words of encouragement for the people back home and received ample applause.
"I just wish everyone could see the good we are doing here and not focus on the bad," said Heenan. "It's war, but a lot of good things are happening here and if we stay the course this country will be a strong country again and we will all be able to be home soon."
"We are proud of you," said Pace. "Not only does your family love you, but everybody in this room today reaches out to you and what you do everyday for our country."
Petty Officer Second Class Lisa Taylor, a hospital corpsman in the Navy, was also scheduled to speak with her mother, Jo-Ann Iannotti, via satellite, but a sand storm made the trip to the Combined Press Information Center not possible. Taylor settled for a phone call instead - the first to her mother since she deployed. All of their previous conversations have been by e-mail.
The event was sponsored by The Korean War Memorial of Central Massachusetts and admission was free to all "Gold Star" family members, widows and former prisoners of war.
The audience included 500 Gold Star family members of the 75 Massachusetts soldiers killed in the wars in AfghanistanIraq. and
U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass., television personality Ed McMahon, comedian Norm Crosby and Irish tenor John McDermott were among the guests who spoke at the event.
Musical performances included singing State Trooper Dan Clark, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who retired from the Massachusetts State Police.