Grief mingles with rejoicing for woman whose husband lived while brother died


WASHINGTON -- It was to be this Glen Burnie woman's first trip to Washington ever, and she was coming here for the most exciting of reasons -- to proudly watch her U.S. Marine Corps husband parade victoriously down Constitution Avenue before God, the president and the whole nation.

But Alice Brass knew from the beginning that, unlike other military spouses who surrounded her in the bleachers, she would be unable to wholly give herself over to feelings of exhilaration. If she hadn't understood that beforehand, she certainly knew it when she spotted the Bradley tank rolling toward her.

She began to cry.

"That was the tank we were told Ronny was in when he got killed," Mrs. Brass, 19, said later.

Ronny -- Army Staff Sgt. Ronald Randazzo of the 1st Cavalry Division -- was Mrs. Brass' big brother. He was also one of seven Marylanders to die during the Persian Gulf war. So if yesterday's parade was a celebration of the safe homecoming of her husband, Marine Cpl. John Brass, it was also a tearful reminder to Mrs. Brass that she is one of the few Americans who did not escape without grief.

Despite the sadness of the occasion, Mrs. Brass said she never hesitated about coming to the parade after learning a week ago that her husband would be a participant.

"When he came home, I was nine months pregnant and could hardly move, let alone go to any homecoming celebrations for him," she said. "Coming here today was my way of saying to him, 'Welcome home.' "

When she saw her husband, in his camouflage uniform, "I started screaming and cheering," she said. "I was more proud than anything. That's about when I went hoarse."

It was at their wedding last summer that she last saw Ronny, one of her five older brothers. Little more than a month later, he phoned to tell her he was shipping out for the Persian Gulf. That same day, she learned that her husband was leaving for the gulf in three days and that she was pregnant.

It was to be a rough pregnancy with the stresses of having a husband and a brother at war. After learning of Ronny's death in an Iraqi attack on his tank near the Saudi-Kuwaiti border Feb. 20, Mrs. Brass was taken to the hospital with pains in her stomach. Doctors feared that she was going into labor prematurely. She didn't, but the rest of her pregnancy was uncomfortable.

Corporal Brass, 23, was sent home in March and was on hand May 2 when Leona was born.

That day, he said, and the day of his wedding were the happiest of his life. Yesterday ranked a close third.

As he marched, he heard soldiers marveling about how many people had come to see them. "We couldn't believe it, all the people, the cheering and salutes," he said. "Guys were getting choked up, and some of them were crying. I came close.

"People were saying to us, 'Thank you,' and we were saying, 'No, thank you. Thank you for coming out and supporting us.' "

It was a thrill, he said, to see President Bush and the military leaders in the reviewing stand, but that wasn't the high point. "To see the president, I was very happy, but to see all the Vietnam veterans and older veterans out there saluting me, that made me the happiest."

Mrs. Brass, too, found herself unexpectedly moved. "The marching, all the shiny equipment and weaponry, the bands. It was a beautiful parade," she said.

A year ago, Mrs. Brass said, she couldn't have envisioned herself cheering so mightily for a military parade, even though her father and four of her brothers had served in the military. She said that it was her brother and his death that had changed her mind.

"He could have gotten out last year, but he decided that there were people who depended on him being over there," she said. " "He stayed because he believed in what he was doing, and that made me understand why we were were there, too.

"He would have loved to have seen a day like this."

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