Web offers comfort to Marine mom

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Never before has Tracy Della Vecchia's job meant so much.

A Web site designer by trade, the Columbia woman has built thousands of pages of online content, including sites featuring homes for sale and other commercial ventures. Not until her son, a Marine, began preparing to ship out to Kuwait, though, did Della Vecchia's daytime occupation truly become a labor of love.

"I've never done anything that made a difference," Della Vecchia said recently during an interview in her home. "Who cares if you can find a house to buy online?"

At a computer in a side room of her house, Della Vecchia maintains a Web site she's developed for other mothers and fathers of Marines. The site is a resource for parents wondering about the length of time it takes to receive mail from Marines in the Middle East or how to handle a son or daughter's finances.

Perhaps more important, the site offers Della Vecchia and moms and dads around the world an outlet for the anxiety that can easily overwhelm them. The online community is especially important, Della Vecchia said, for parents who live in towns such as Columbia that don't have a strong military presence.

"Seventy-five percent of the e-mails I get say, 'I thought I was the only mom who felt like that. Thanks,"' Della Vecchia said.

Melinda Lockwood understands. A neighbor of Della Vecchia, Lockwood had a son, a Marine tank commander, who fought in the first Gulf War. It's difficult for people who haven't shipped a loved one off to battle to understand, the mothers agree.

"I think this Web site is so important," Lockwood, a frequent visitor to Della Vecchia's home, said to her Friday. "It's important for you because it's giving you a focus."

Della Vecchia said: "We do feel pretty alone in Columbia. When I stay focused on this, I want to find the right answer. I'm dealing with this mass of information. I don't have an emotional breakdown."

Eight hours daily

Della Vecchia spends up to eight hours a day answering e-mail and collecting new stories to add to the Web site. If she doesn't know answers to frequently asked questions, she researches them and posts the information on the site. Questions include the rather mundane, such as what can be done to help troops deal with sandstorms. "Things like Ziplock baggies are almost as good as cigarettes over there," Della Vecchia tells the Web site's visitors.

The need to connect is evident by the 6,500 people who can be found visiting the site on a given day. Some of them spend a couple of hours on the site, said Della Vecchia, who has real-time access to its statistics.

Connections are made, too, she said. On the January day Della Vecchia's son, Marine Lance Cpl. Derrick Jensen, arrived in Kuwait, he met a fellow serviceman whose mother Della Vecchia met the same day through her Web site.

As requests or suggestions roll in from viewers, Della Vecchia adds to the site. On one page is the photo of a baby named John. He was born Feb. 25 in Utah, three days after his dad left for Kuwait.

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