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War Stories: Grandmother holds the line at home

It's hard to tell kids why Mommy, Daddy aren't home

From David Mattingly

Hazel Taylor comforts her grandson Kendrick. Hazel's daughter, son-in-law and husband are serving in Iraq.
Hazel Taylor comforts her grandson Kendrick. Hazel's daughter, son-in-law and husband are serving in Iraq.

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Hazel Taylor says her duty is taking care of her grandchildren -- and all their questions about the war. CNN's David Mattingly has the report. (April 3)
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In our 'War Stories' series, CNN correspondents tell the story of war from the perspective of one person living through, recovering from or fighting the war in Iraq.

FORT CAMPBELL, Kentucky (CNN) -- Hazel Taylor had no idea war in Iraq would fill her life with so much work and so much worry.

"Sometimes I think, 'My husband is gone, my daughter is gone, my son-in-law is gone.' It's just me and the two babies, and I think...." Her voice trails off in a sigh, and she's unable to complete the sentence.

Taylor quit her job to take care of her two young grandchildren after Army deployments sent her husband, her daughter and her son-in-law to Iraq. The couple left their two young children at home in Hazel's care.

With her husband gone as well, Hazel spends her days at her Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home caring for her 5-year-old grandson Kendrick and 4-year-old granddaughter Lanajia. Familiar with the role of full-time mom, she still was not prepared for all the questions about why Mommy and Daddy can't come home.

"I'm out of words," she admits when it comes to talking to the children about the war and their parents. "Sometimes you just run out of words. You just don't have any more words. So it's at those times that I think I get a little bit emotional."

A family deployed

Taylor's daughter, Capt. Yulonda Washington; and Yulonda's husband, Staff Sgt. Langston Washington, are both attached to support units with the Army's 3rd Infantry Division, which is seeing heavy fighting as it presses toward Baghdad.

Taylor's husband, Staff Sgt. James C. Taylor, is attached to a unit supporting the 101st Airborne, which on this day, had just completed house-to-house searches in the town of Najaf.

To distract herself from the war, Hazel says she tries to lose herself in her daily chores, tending to a house and a family separated by war. E-mail from her military family is precious, but often troubling.

Trying to interpret her daughter's vague reference to unexpected hardship leads to new concern, but Taylor knows she has to keep her composure and make sure her loved ones overseas are confident everything is fine on the home front.

"I have to assure my daughter that everything is fine with the children here, and that everything is being taken care of. My son-in-law needs to know that everything is fine, because he's got the whole family concerns. And then my husband has to know that, in the midst of all that, I'm OK."

She carries a sense of duty that comes from being a soldier herself 20 years ago. But now Hazel Taylor is also a minister who just weeks ago started her own church, Living Bread World Ministries. She hopes to minister to other families at Fort Campbell separated by war.

"It's hard and my heart goes out to all the men and the women that have the job that I have right now."

And as Hazel Taylor reaches out to others, she finds her own comfort in the embrace of loved ones at home.

"It's OK," she says hugging her young grandson. "Grandma loves you."

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