Serving on the home front

Chico woman’s book describes the effects of two wars on her family

Nanette Sagastume knows what war does to its fighters. The wife of a former combat Marine who served in Vietnam and mother of another combat Marine who served in Iraq, in the heart of darkness known as Fallujah, she’s spent her adult life ministering to loved ones who carry the emotional scars of war.

The Chico woman, a retired nurse practitioner who worked for 28 years at Chico State’s Student Health Center, has written an unusually revealing and intimate account of what war combat has done to her family and how she and other family members have responded to it.

The book, We Also Serve: A Family Goes to War, is as its title suggests about the Sagastume family: Nanette, her husband, Mario, and their three sons and daughter. But it’s mainly Nanette’s story, and she emerges during the telling as a fiercely protective wife and mother who, despite being scared to her core when her youngest son is sent to Iraq, never allows herself to feel victimized, instead responding to her fear by taking steps to find support and solidarity with the parents of other combat warriors.

When the Sagastumes married, in 1972, Mario was suffering from a classic case of undiagnosed post-traumatic-stress disorder that manifested in bursts of rage, heavy alcohol and marijuana use, and discord in their marriage.

By the time their youngest child, Daniel, followed in his father’s footsteps and enlisted in the Marines, in 2000, Mario had received treatment for his PTSD and developed the self-awareness that helped him control it, but it was still a presence in his life and, he knew, always would be.

The war in Iraq, and Daniel’s deployment to Fallujah, the most dangerous battleground in the country, put enormous stress on everyone in the family. Nanette’s response was to form the Chico Military Family Support Group composed of parents of local warriors. Mario’s was to reconnect with Vietnam veterans as a way to help the current generation of fighters.

The climactic event takes place on Labor Day, 2004, when a suicide bomber sets off a blast next to a convoy that includes a Humvee in which Daniel is a passenger, killing seven Marines and injuring many more. It’s sheer chance that Daniel escapes unharmed.

For someone who isn’t a professional writer, Nanette Sagastume does a remarkable job of telling her tale. Her prose is unadorned but refreshing in its blunt honesty and respect for the people in her life. Any parent with a child in the military who reads this book will be glad to have met her.