Iraq War leaves North Myrtle Beach woman raising grandchild

On Veterans Day we honor the sacrifices of our military men and women.

But it's often the families left behind by the troops overseas who feel the biggest void during the holiday.

"This isn't what I thought I'd be doing at the age of 65," said Becky Stearns of North Myrtle Beach.

The days she thought would be filled with retirement are instead filled with familiar chores.

"He's a great baby. But there have been some times when he would wake up in the middle of the night when I thought, I don't want to do this," she said jokingly.

She laughs at her reality that now includes raising her eleven-month-old grandson, Gabriel.

"I'm learning I can do a lot of things I didn't think I could do. I'm learning that I can get up very early and get a baby dressed and ready by 8:30, which is surprising."

She's acting as a proxi-parent because her son, John, and daughter-in-law, Stacey, are both serving in Iraq as sergeants in the United States Army.

"The last time they saw the baby was July 4th this year."

She turned her living room into what she calls the "circle of love," which consists of a grandma-made-circular barrier of pillows, chairs and couches to keep the baby out of trouble.

Gabriel is a handful, she admits. "He gets into everything."

The grandmother prepared herself to take on this roll when Gabriel was first born, she said. She knew it was inevitable both John and Stacey would be gone at the same time.

It's hard not to think about her family of soldiers, because she sees John and Stacey every time she looks into Gabriel's eyes.

"I see a lot of her here, and I see a lot of John here. The combination is very interesting. It makes for a very busy-busy baby and a very stubborn-busy-busy baby."

She carries the roll of stand-in parent easily because she believes it's John and Stacey who have the greatest burden to bear.

"I do worry they're gone and that they are in harms way a lot. But I think the very worst of it is that they are missing all the milestones. They missed all six teeth. They've missed the pulling up, and they've missed the standing up in the crib the very first time and the pride on his face."

Becky recently got help again from her 68-year-old husband, Buck, who was doing contract work in Pennsylvania for a few months. But before then, it was Gabriel and grandma.

Bringing up another boy this late in life keeps her on her toes. But it's not too difficult for her to handle, Becky said. "I can't convince people that it's not been bad on me."

Becky's thick skin and rock hard emotions come from a long family history of military men and women. Her father served during War World II and her other son, David, served in the U.S. Navy for 22 years.

She hopes Gabriel's parents will make it back for the holidays. In October, President Barack Obama said all American troops serving in Iraq would be home for Christmas.

"The word to all of us as American citizens is that our troops will be home for Christmas. That's the last promise President Obama made to the public was that he would bring the troops home for Christmas."

But if not, the grandmother said she'll gladly continue the responsibility that's been asked of her.

"I'm part of Blue Star Mothers, and I think that one of things I take away from them is that they believe there is a higher power watching over their children and they are doing everything that they can to support their children. But one of the things they don't give their children is the responsibility of a mother's worry."

A mother's worry that's kept inside to protect her family who, in turn, protect us all.

"This is what our children have decided to do and for me it's the right decision. Somebody has to be out there to protect us, and we have to support them, not just on Veteran's Day."