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A Navy Lieutenant’s Mother - 2004-05-10

On this week’s edition of New American Voices, we talk with an immigrant mother whose son is returning from duty with the American Armed Forces in Iraq.

Lena Tamakloe’s oldest child, Patrick, was born in the United States, grew up in Ghana and Zambia, and returned to America at the age of twenty-one. Shortly thereafter, he joined the U.S. Navy.

“He wanted to be a good citizen. And there were a lot of opportunities in the Navy, where he could go to school and get some kind of pay at the same time. He thought it was good. And it was good to serve his country.”

That was in 1992. Since then, Patrick Tamakloe has earned a degree in speech therapy, advanced to the rank of Lieutenant, Junior Grade, and served on a number of navy vessels. He was a crew member on the guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Donald Cook when it was assigned to active duty in Iraq.

“He told me he was going out to sea, but he didn’t tell me where he was going. Only I suspected that he might be going that way. And I asked him to be careful, and always to pray, you know, because I taught him that although he wants to be in the armed forces, he should not strike first. Let somebody get ready to harm him before he does it, to defend himself, you see. Fortunately, he came back. Every day we were praying for him and his fellow navy people and all the people in the armed forces.”

Now that her son’s tour of duty in Iraq is over and she knows he’s safe, Lena Tamakloe can speak dispassionately about her feelings while he was there.

“I was worried, very worried, because, you know, every time you hear of somebody dying, you say, ‘Oh, I hope it’s not my son!’ you know, and when will this war end? I prefer peace to war. I just pray that one day, which will be soon, there will be no more war.”

In the meantime, however, Lena Tamakloe is distressed about the recent news coming out of Iraq.

“Things have gone haywire, and I’m really disappointed. Disappointed in the fact that some members of the armed forces are maltreating the very people they went to help. Oh, I was so disappointed and embarrassed.”

Mrs. Tamakloe says that, knowing her son, she is certain he is also aghast at the abuses some of his colleagues in the armed forces are accused of committing.

“Oh, he’s a very loving person, he wouldn’t hurt a fly, so I know he would also be disappointed that some of his fellow members were misbehaving like this. I don’t know what went into their heads, to go that way. And it’s common record, so a lot of people will be discredited.”

On the other hand, she doesn’t think the Iraqis are blameless, either.

“There were times when they ambushed and attacked the Americans, and I said, ‘How can it be, people have come to help you, and you turn around and harm them? Because what we saw, the atrocities that Saddam Hussein was meting out to his own people, they were just too much, too unbearable. People killed and buried in mass graves and so on. And he and his family amassing so much wealth. It wasn’t fair to the Iraqis. But then they should know what was being done to them, and if people have come to help them, they should cooperate with them."

Lena Tamakloe, a small, middle-aged woman with red-tinted hair, shares a homey apartment in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. with her eighteen-year-old daughter, MamaaAbui, a high school student. Mrs. Tamakloe first came to the United States from Ghana in 1969 to study. She married, had a baby, and eventually returned to Ghana, where she opened a shop specializing in African clothing. In 1996 she decided to leave Ghana for good and join her son Patrick in the United States. While her older daughter manages the clothing shop in Ghana, Lena Tamakloe works at a job helping elderly people in an assisted living facility.

“My own mother died when I was very young, it was my grandmother who took care of me. And she was such a loving person, and left me some good properties, too, so I said, ‘Well, I’ll give it back to, you know, older people, helping them. I work with people suffering from Alzheimer’s. It’s very challenging, but we manage. You know, when I think that they’re older, and some of them really appreciate it when you show love and concern toward them. It goes a long way.”

Recently Mrs. Tamakloe passed a major milestone -- she became a U.S. citizen. She says her new status has even affected her feelings about the work she does.

“My becoming a citizen made me feel good, and makes me feel good, and we like it, because I expect to be treated as a citizen, and get all the rights and benefits of a full citizen. And also to contribute to the nation as a citizen. So where I work, for example, it’s not like I’m helping strangers. I feel like I’m helping my own people. I’m one of them.”

As an immigrant and a new citizen, Lena Tamakloe says she feels that she should contribute to her adoptive country in any way she can. So as a mother, she is proud of her son Patrick’s commitment, as a naval officer, to serve his country.

“Once he has chosen to be an American, he has a duty to perform, you know, so I have no quarrels with that. He’s so proud to be doing what he’s doing. At a certain point, I was wondering, with the war getting worse, if he had a way out. And he told me he had a mission to, you know, accomplish. So it’s like if he’s sent out there again, he will go. I am proud of him. I just pray for his safety.”

One immigrant mother’s perspective on her son’s service in the US armed forces in Iraq.

English Feature #7-38606 Broadcast May 10, 2004