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MESSAGES OF LOVE FAMILIES ARE WITH GIS TODAY IN SPIRIT AND VIA VIDEO ON NET.

Byline: Angie Valencia-Martinez Staff Writer

VAN NUYS - Dee Dee Clark taught her daughter well: The younger woman is helping dish up Thanksgiving dinner today for some 400 men and women who are as homesick as she is.

Master Sgt. Lia Johnson is making sure the hundreds of tired, lonely and frightened soldiers in the Kuwaiti desert get the kind of feast her mother made sure she and her four siblings shared so many years ago.

``Most of the soldiers consider her a mom,'' Clark said about her 44-year-old daughter, a member of the Army Reserves. ``She says she has some 400 children.''

No question Clark, home in Van Nuys, is proud of her daughter's contribution to the war effort. But there's no doubt she and other family members miss Johnson and pray for her safe return.

``As a soldier, her responsibility is to follow orders and go where she's sent,'' Clark said. ``As a mother and wife, she would like to be home.''

To help bridge that emotional and geographic gap, Clark participated in the GI Greetings effort through the Daily News, which allows people to make videos for their loved ones overseas and have them posted on the newspaper's Web site for the recipients and others to enjoy.

The video message to Johnson was simple: ``We miss you, want you to come home unharmed and pray for world peace.''

Johnson is a food-service specialist whose tour of duty has ripped the mother of two from the comforts of home in Moulton, Ala.

Before her current assignment at Camp Navistar, she served twice in Iraq, missing holidays, birthdays and anniversaries along the way.

She's among the tens of thousands of men and women in the military who won't be coming home for the holidays, leaving empty chairs at the table and a void in the hearts of loved ones.

This holiday season, many military families will experience an emotional mixed bag, said Richard MacDonald, professor of family studies at California State University, Northridge.

``Holidays are stressful, anyway,'' he said. ``(Separation) certainly puts a strain on it. The season evokes a kind of nostalgic, warm message of togetherness.''

Along with some sadness and longing for people separated by military service, there's a sense of patriotism and pride, especially for the Neudorff family of West Hills, who also participated in GI Greetings.

``This is a time to honor God and be thankful,'' said Mark Neudorff, who has two sons and a daughter-in-law serving their country. ``We're thankful for our soldiers risking their lives.''

Son Adrian, 26, is part of a Navy security force stationed in Bahrain. Andre, 22, and his wife, Cherami, are with the Army in Missouri and could be deployed to Iraq by year's end.

The Neudorffs' GI Greetings brought together parents, grandparents and siblings who sent best wishes, prayers and a message of love, emphasizing that it's an honor to be related to members of the U.S, military.

Mark Neudorff and his wife, Emilia, said holidays at their home are a big production. The couple home-schooled all six of their children, five of whom are adopted.

The holidays became much more important to the couple when they decided to adopt after 10 years of not being able to have children.

``The first Thanksgiving with our first two boys was so extremely special because we felt that we were a brand new family,'' Emilia Neudorff said. ``Years later, with the addition of the other three children, our family was complete. The birth of our last child was frosting on the cake.

``We're a big family by choice.''

The family celebration this year will go on despite the absence of those in the military.

``There's a void,'' Emilia Neudorff said. ``We turn to God for strength.''

David Neudorff, a brother of Adrian and Andre, reminisced about family holiday traditions, including soccer matches and ``sausage McNeudorffs'' for breakfast.

Separation for military duty takes a toll on everyone, but can be especially hard for children.

``It's very rough,'' said Master Sgt. Johnson's 15-year-old daughter, Deanna, sobbing.

The teenager has been staying with her grandmother until her mother returns, possibly in July. Deanna's life has been turned upside down since she left her rural roots and had to adjust to ``big city'' life while her mother is away.

``This will be her second Christmas away from home,'' the teen said. ``I will try and do my best to ... keep a happy face on.''

Deanna and her grandmother smiled for a video greeting. Calls and e- mails help bridge the gap, and they will send their special soldier a holiday package of her favorite goodies.

For Christmas, what they really want is a long overdue reunion.

``Enough is enough,'' Clark said. ``I think she needs to come home.''

Angie Valencia-Martinez, (805) 583-7604

angie.valencia(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

6 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Deanna Johnson, left, and her grandmother, Dee Dee Clark, record a video for Deanna's mom, Master Sgt. Lia Johnson. With them, from left: Jared Caudel, Jake Sievert and Vicki Sievert.

(2) Via video, Mark Neudorff, top right; his wife, Emilia, at his side, and others greet the couple's sons and daughter-in-law in the military.

Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer

(3 -- color) Greetings from home

(4 -- color) LIA JOHNSON

(5) ADRIAN NEUDORFF

(6) Andre Neudorff and his wife Cherami are with the Army in Missouri and could be deployed to Iraq by year's end.

Box:

Send a holiday video postcard to your loved one serving overseas
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Nov 24, 2005
Words:915
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