‘Home for holidays’ has new meaning

Published 12:17 am Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Wallace family – Jeff, Sonia, Karlie-Belle and Branston – are thrilled to have their missing piece – U.S. Marine Zak – back in the fold for the Christmas holiday.

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of home for the holidays features. To suggest a story in this series, email editor@andalusiastarnews.com, or call 222.2402.

For Jeff and Sonia Wallace, not hearing their son’s voice was the hardest thing.

But, that’s all changed now that Zak, the 18-year-old Marine, has made it home from boot camp at Parris Island, S.C.

“It was like he dropped off the face of the Earth,” mom Sonia said. “The first time I saw him, it felt like as if he’d been kidnapped and someone brought him to me – whole and alive. Words can’t describe how happy we were to see him.”

Zak said his time away was difficult, but well worth it. He graduated boot camp on Fri., Dec. 9, and will return to duty in January. He plans to pursue a career in combat engineering.

“Think ‘Hurt Locker’ without defusing the IEDs,” Zak said of improvised explosive devices. “We go find them instead of defusing them. I’ll deploy with an infantry unit, and as the IEDs are found, they’re turned over to us to dispose of, which is just another way of saying ‘blowing them up.’”

Zak said the first three weeks of boot camp and the Thanksgiving holiday were the toughest times to be away from home.

“It was about getting used to depending on yourself,” he said of the time. “Mom’s not there anymore to take care of you. You have to branch out and find your own personal self. After that, you don’t have time to think about it much. You’re too busy.”

Zak has wanted to be in the military, “It’s always been my thing,” he said.

Mom Sonia said she knew a military career was a given when the boy was a second grader.

“He made us turn his room into an army battlefield,” she said. “When he told us his decision to join the Marines, I begged and pleaded for him not to go. When I signed those papers for him to join, I felt like I’d given him up for adoption. I felt empty inside.

“When he graduated and came home, it’s hard to explain, but you know going there, it’s temporary,” she said. “But for 13 weeks, not to hear his voice, not to know if he’s well, sick or happy. It’s trying.

“We’d write, but it would be three days for the letter to get there, and then another three days for a reply to come back,” she said. “That’s six days – a lot can happen in six days.”

Dad Jeff said he knew his son’s decision to join the military was a good one.

“I knew it would better his life,” Jeff said. “That day, when we got to see him, there’s hardly words for it we were so happy. Him, too.”

His sister Karlie-Belle and brother Branston are glad to have him home as well.

“We get to go hunting, which is great,” Branston said.

Karlie-Belle said she’s glad her “chauffeur” is back.

“I miss him taking me to school and stuff,” she said.

Next month, Zak will report to Camp Geiger, N.C., for a 29-day Marine combat training course and then to a six-week combat engineer school in Courthouse Bay, N.C. After that, a base in South Carolina – hopefully.

“If not there, then Camp Pendleton, Calif., or Okinawa, Japan,” he said. “You can tell which one we’re gunning for.”