Forty years ago, Patricia Salazar marched and shouted on the streets of L.A. against the Vietnam War.
Today, she would very much like to protest the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But she won't. Not as long as her son is wearing the uniform of the U.S. Army.
"I don't believe in this war," Salazar told me in her Cypress home. "I would take to the streets.… But I can't do that. It would almost feel like I'm betraying my son."
There are many moms like Salazar across the United States. Women torn between the loyalty and love they feel for their children and their anger at what's happening in those faraway places where Americans are dying in combat.
"It's a conflict I live with every day," she said.
Salazar contacted me this month not to protest the war but to comment on a strange confluence of events that got her thinking about and seeing America as it really is.
Next month is the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium, the antiwar movement that climaxed with a big Eastside rally on Aug. 29, 1970. My columns on the moratorium got Salazar reminiscing: She was there that day, marching on Whittier Boulevard alongside a younger brother then reaching draft age.
Now her 31-year-old son is preparing to head off to Afghanistan. Saying goodbye to him will be her own private drama, in a country that seems not to care one way or another about being at war.
"It's almost as if we're resigned to the horrors of war," she wrote. "As I sat and read your columns, I wondered, 'What was it all for?' "
These days, in America, we fight our wars by a kind of remote control. Our political leaders only reluctantly debate the full human and financial toll. Afghanistan and Iraq are far away, and it takes some effort to remember that people are dying there in our country's name.
Forty years ago, it was different, Salazar told me. College students and senior citizens, pacifists and a pro-war "silent majority" all argued over the war. Every family seemed touched by the conflict. It was on TV every night. Images of soldiers' funerals were inescapable.
Now it feels to Salazar as if the Americans fighting the war, and the people who love them, are living in a separate country.
She had to lobby her church congregation to include a prayer for the troops in the weekly Mass. She's endured listening to young people call our servicemen "losers."
And not long ago she was in a local shopping center parking lot when a man who might have been Middle Eastern approached her car after spotting her "Army Mom" bumper sticker. "Your son is killing my relatives," he said.
Doing her best to contain her anger, she answered: "I'll pray for you."
The Patricia Salazar who grew up in 1960s San Diego and became a student radical would never have dreamed of finding herself in such a position.
She was 20 when she drove to L.A. for the Chicano Moratorium with several friends who called themselves Brown Berets. Even then, war and sacrifice were not abstract notions for her.
Her uncle Ruben Tellez was killed while parachuting into Normandy during World War II. His death, she told me, left a deep emotional wound in his brothers and sisters, including Rose Tellez, Salazar's mother.
"It's been over 60 years, but you'd think that he died last week," said Salazar, who now is the family "custodian" of her uncle's Purple Heart. "They celebrate his birthday every year. They can talk about him in a lighthearted way and then start choking up."
When Vietnam rolled around, six young men from Salazar's Catholic school went off to war. "Only two came back," she said. Salazar wrote letters to several of the soldiers, including Jesse Gomez, known to neighborhood friends as "Frog."
"He'd write about the absurdities," she said. "When he died, it hit me the hardest." If World War II was her mother's war, she decided, Vietnam was "my war."
"I had three younger brothers who were reaching draft age," she said. "The war had to stop."
The day of the Chicano Moratorium began with hope. "There were so many different kinds of people marching," Salazar told me. "Old people, young people, Asians, blacks and whites."
Then sheriff's deputies broke up the post-march rally. In the mayhem she was separated from her 16-year-old brother. She bluffed her way past police lines to find him.
"It all feels like it happened yesterday," she said.
Salazar would later move on to jobs in the nonprofit and corporate worlds, at a women's shelter and as a human-resources manager. The Tellez-Salazar family saw more wars. Her brother, novelist Michael Salazar, served in the first Gulf War.
Her son Joseph Sepulveda joined the Army and left for a 15-month deployment in Iraq in 2006.
"Mom, it's not my fate to die in Iraq," he told her as he left. "So don't worry about me." But of course she did. Among other things, she and the other parents of his unit raised thousands of dollars to replace their children's obsolete equipment.
"I never got a good night's sleep his entire deployment," Salazar said. "There's a physical stress you carry because I gave birth to him."
Now another deployment looms for Sepulveda, who is married and a father of three, and for his family and the others in his unit.
We should all remember and reflect on the quiet trials of these American families. We should both honor their service and relentlessly question whether our country should continue to demand their sacrifice.
Patricia Salazar also wants us to protest — even though she won't join in any marches.
"I know how to end all wars," she told me with a wry, melancholy smile. "Make everyone who has to go to war get a note from their mother first. Because no mother would write that note."