As Jean Prewitt relaxed on a bench at the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment's memorial garden, not far from a plaque which honors the ultimate sacrifice her son, and her family, made for freedom, she leaned toward her visitor and mentioned the picture.
After a morning of trying to contain her emotions, Prewitt unleashed the tears as she thought of that cold January afternoon in 2003, the day her only son left for what would soon be the war in Iraq.
Pvt. Kelley S. Prewitt, 24, was reassuring his mother that things would work out OK.
" 'Don't cry, mom,' he told me. Of course, I stopped. But just for a while," said Jean Prewitt, who, with her former husband Steve Prewitt and the families of slain 3rd Brigade soldiers Pvt. Gregory Huxley, Staff Sgt. Terry Hemingway and 1st Sgt. Joe Garza, were invited guests at Thursday's dedication of an Operation Iraqi Freedom monument at Kelley Hill.
"Just before they were to leave, his best friendBen Schlabachsnapped a picture of me kissing Kelley. How was I to know it would be the last time I'd ever see my son?"
The pain of losing a child, she said, "is the toughest thing I've ever had to face."
But the 53-year-old Birmingham, Ala., native has found a way to cope: She takes every opportunity she gets to protest the U.S. involvement in the war. In fact, just three weeks ago she participated in an anti-war rally in front of the White House.
"I know my ex-husband doesn't share my opinion about the war, and I'm pretty certain if Kelley was still here, he'd want to go back to Iraq to fight," she said. "But really, this has got nothing to do with losing Kelley. I'm convinced that our president jumped the gun by invading Iraq, alienating other countries as he did. And (Secretary of Defense Donald) Rumsfeld, he needs to be fired. I blame him a lot for what has happened to our soldiers."
This from a mother of three -- Kelley had two older sisters -- who worked for 30 years in the same post office building in Birmingham, and who never got involved in anything political.
"Even after Kelley died last April, I didn't speak out. I certainly tried to avoid reporters."
But as her first Christmas came and went without her son, Jean Prewitt's entire raison d'etre changed.
"I know I surprised a lot of people when I began speaking out," she said, managing her first smile. "I even surprised myself. I took an early retirement, which has given me the opportunity to travel and to talk about the war. I have to stay busy."
Will it do any good? "Of course not; they're not listening. But it does me a lot of good."
Jean Prewitt's pain is soothed somewhat by the relationship she's developed with her son's friends, many of whom have visited with her in Birmingham during the year since Kelley was killed. In fact, Schlabach was her escort during Thursday's ceremony.
The circumstances surrounding Kelley's death still haunt her. "He lived for four hours after being wounded," she recalled, almost in a whisper. "There was a sandstorm and it was impossible to evacuate him out of there..."
But, she insists, she doesn't hold anyone accountable for him bleeding to death from his shrapnel wounds.
"I remain very proud of what he did. The Army was good for him. It gave him direction. Coming back here, on a day like this, brings back painful memories. But I would never consider not coming back. I owe it to Kelley."
Maria Garza and her 17-year-old daughter, Myra, a former Spencer High student, attended the ceremony. So, too, did Gregory and Mary Huxley, parents of Gregory Jr., and Darlene Hemingway, Terry Hemingway's widow.
The Garza family, who had lived in Columbus for nine years, has since moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. The Hemingways -- Darlene and her three children -- moved back to New Jersey, where on Monday Darlene began a new job at Fort Dix.
The Huxleys, from New York state, have yet to come to grips with the loss of their son. "The support of all these people is great," said Gregory Sr., referring to the men of the 317th Engineers. "But there have been a lot of long nights. And I realize how lonely I am without him at my side. We did everything together."
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