When the Potomac community heard that one of their young men was returning from military service in Iraq, they sent fliers and e-mails throughout the neighborhood, and that’s how the party got started.
At least 50 friends, neighbors and family members celebrated the return of Randy Hsia, 26, last Sunday, June 29 at his parents’ home on Eldwick Way in Potomac. Yellow ribbons were tied to homes throughout the neighborhood.
Hsia, a Marine, left for Kuwait the weekend before the Super Bowl and remembered being upset because he was going to miss the big game. But he had a job to do.
“Kuwait was a lot of waiting,” Hsia said. “We were doing training almost constantly, we trained day and night. We went in with the idea that we were definitely going to go in [to Iraq]. We didn’t think they’d fly us all the way out there just to be a political presence.”
When President Bush called for war, Hsia’s unit did not have much time to say their final goodbyes to all the people they knew they wouldn’t be able to see until the war ended, Hsia said.
“We got the call around two in the morning. The commander sat us down and said we were going in in six hours, but we’d been training for three months, so we were well prepared.”
Wearing hot and heavy military gear was a part of being prepared. The gear included normal camouflage and a M.O.P.P. suit, which stands for “mission oriented protective posture suit” and is a carbon-insulated suit that is supposed to protect soldiers from chemical attack, Hsia said. He also had to carry waterproof pens for all the maps they used, a flack jacket, his weapons and ammunition, and plus water.
“The initial attack, everyone was pretty nervous because most of us had never experienced combat before,” Hsia said. “But after we pushed into Iraq and took the first town, we realized that our training was effective.”
Hsia coped with his nervousness, thinking about his family and the men he was fighting with by praying for the first 15 minutes before an operation. “Then I was able to clear my head and focus on my job,” he said.
“The Potomac community was phenomenal,” Hsia said. “I got a lot of packages from neighbors I knew, as well as those I didn’t know. They really provided a great support base for my parents and my family.”
Randy Hsia’s mother Emmy Hsai agreed that the community had been very supportive in helping her family through a difficult time.
“I was scared of course, and nervous and anxious,” she said. “But we had a lot of support from the neighborhood and our church. They lined people up so that every day someone was praying for him. We were so thankful. We prayed a lot, so we didn’t lose a day’s sleep.”
Tony Hsia, Randy’s father said that Randy was in ROTC in college at the University of Pennsylvania. Not a military man himself, Tony said he had actually hoped his son would join the Navy, where he would “get the sea, the sun and fresh air.” But Randy, who is a former Eagle Scout, liked the challenge of the Marines more, his father said.
“When he said I’m being shipped out to Kuwait, as parents we worried,” Tony said. “We really thank God for protecting him and most of the service men and women there.”
The last letter he and his wife received from their son was March 17, Tony said. After that, they did not hear from him for a little over a month and prayed that “nobody we don’t know knocked on the door or phoned.”
In Randy’s last letter to his parents before going into battle, he had expressed hope that the situation in Iraq could be worked out diplomatically because “nobody really wants to be in a war,” his father said. “Now, he is getting ready to go to law school, maybe Temple or Maryland.”
Even though Randy was unable to respond to letters from friends and family, he received many letters from them and the Potomac community.
Randy Hsia’s brother Danny, 23, kept a journal in which he wrote notes about funny things that happened at home or that he had seen on T.V. or read in the paper and sent it his brother. Danny’s girlfriend Heather also pitched in by writing notes to Randy about how his brother was doing, although she never let Danny read them, he said. A friend of Danny’s who is a teacher had all her students write letters to Randy and his unit.
“While the war was going on I was always thinking about my friends over there, and I kind of felt like I should be there,” said Roland Chattaway who went to Churchill High School with Randy. “I really wanted to be helping out. I sent a postcard. I should have sent more.”
The Hsia’s neighbors, Kathy Kurgan, Audrey Zeibert, and Janet Erickson passed out flyers for everyone in the neighborhood to pray for him, and put out candles and yellow ribbons.
People sent mail and food packages to him, that he shared with his whole unit, they said.
“We thought he was our son too,” Zeibert said. “We all have boys so that helps too.”