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December 22. 2012 10:06PM

Gilford mom's 'baby' is far away at war


Joy Hall of Gilford holds a plaque with her son Peter Freeman's photo. Freeman, 24, will be in Afghanistan during Christmas. (DAN SEUFERT/Union Leader Correspondent)

GILFORD - Joy Hall is glad she's become part of a much larger family. It helps her cope with the reality that her baby won't be home for Christmas.

Hall's youngest son, U.S. Army Spc. Peter Freeman, is deployed in Afghanistan, and she doesn't expect him to make it home in time to celebrate the holidays with her and his siblings at the family's house in Gilford.

"What makes it hard is Christmas Eve is also my birthday," said Hall, who is a member of the New Hampshire chapter of the Blue Star Mothers of America, a support group for families of military members serving on active duty. "The kids always come over and we celebrate. This is the first year since Peter enlisted that he won't be here with us. It's going to be tough."

Freeman, 24, is a member of the 1-17 Infantry (Buffaloes) out of Fort Lewis in Washington state. Hall said he is stationed in an area of Afghanistan where communication is difficult.

"I haven't received anything from him for two months now," said Hall. "It's hard not hearing from him, but I know he said it would be hard to do where he is. You just hope each day that he and the rest of the boys are OK."

Hall said that while all of her three children were born in New Hampshire, the family moved to Middletown, N.J., for a few years, keeping the house in Gilford as a vacation home (she has since become a full-time resident again). Middletown is near Manhattan, New York, and Hall said the community suffered many losses on 9/11. The terrorist attacks inspired Freeman to join the military.

"There were a lot of boys in his class that talked about joining the military right after 9/11," said Hall.

"He talked about it a lot. He went to school, but I think that was only because of me. I think he felt like he really wanted to do something after the attacks."

Freeman graduated from high school and the Universal Technical Institute in Pennsylvania, then secured a job with Jaguar.

But thoughts of joining the military never left his mind, and he acted on them one day in 2009.

"I'll never forget when he told me," said Hall. "I was just back from a trip to Cancun and brought back a bottle of tequila I was going to save. He sat me down, told me he had enlisted, and I went in the kitchen, grabbed the bottle, brought it out and said, 'Well, I guess it's time you had a shot of this with your mother.' I wasn't thrilled, but I gave him my blessing."

Hall says every soldier in her son's unit is like a son to her.

"I've become kind of an adopted mom for them," she said.

When her son was first sent to Fort Lewis, the two talked often.

Frequently, other members of the unit would join in the conversation.

"They would yell out to me in the background," said Hall. "I talked to him on Mother's Day, and they would be yelling out, 'Hi Mom,' stuff like that. It was funny."

When Hall headed out to Washington to attend her son's deployment ceremony, she couldn't wait to meet the other members of his unit.

"I made it a point to meet them," said Hall. "I wanted to see who my son was heading over there with and wanted to put faces to some of the voices. They said, 'You can be like an adoptive mother for us all.' I really liked hearing that."

Hall said she has been keeping active with the Blue Star Mothers of New Hampshire, to keep her mind off the fact she won't see Peter on Christmas. She recently helped put up one of the group's Heroes Christmas Trees at the Walmart in Gilford. The trees are decorated with stars of gold, black, and blue that bear the names of U.S. service members past and present, and blank stars are available for anyone who would like to add to the tree the name of someone who is serving or a veteran.

"They have been very supportive," said Hall. "It's a wonderful group."

The Blue Star Mothers organization was formed in January 1942. Today, the organization is represented throughout the United States and often works with New Hampshire Gold Star Mothers, mothers who have lost a son or daughter in the service of the nation.

There are about 70 active Blue Star Mothers in New Hampshire.

"We are a support group for anyone who has or has had a loved one in the military," said Blue Star Mothers of New Hampshire President Karen Thurston. "We support each other, our military and our veterans."

Hall said Freeman's tour in Afghanistan is scheduled to end next month, and he should be back in New Hampshire by the end of January. He has already re-enlisted and has been accepted into the 101st Airborne. She is confident of his return, but gets worried when she receives a notification from the government that someone has been killed in action.

"They tell all of us when one is killed," she said. "The first time I received one I was thinking it was about my son, but it was someone else's son. I've been getting the notifications ever since; I'm starting to get used to it."

If she can't see her son on Christmas, Hall hopes she'll hear from him at some point that day.

"That would be the best birthday and Christmas gift," said Hall. "Just knowing he's safe."

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New Hampshire Union Leader Correspondent Dan Seufert contributed to this report. Paul Feely may be reached at pfeely@unionleader.com.


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