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A click away, then gone

TAMPA — His Yahoo! Messenger status told her when he was "gone to sleep," "gone to work out" or just "away."

She watched for his downtimes, when the message next to his name announced the second-best news a family member can get from a loved one at war:

"Yes, I am here!"

Since December, 70-year-old Madelyn Rosenberg had tended to her nephew, Army Maj. Mark Rosenberg, in instant message chats and e-mails.

He was in his second tour of duty in Iraq. She was in her 37th year living in Tampa.

He'd ask about Uncle Stanley and the cousins. She'd ask which snacks she could send and always implored him to stay safe.

They never talked about war.

• • •

Five years ago, Madelyn Rosenberg watched as her country set its sights on Iraq, relieved that no one she loved was going.

"I thought, like most of the nation, that this would be short and sweet," she said.

Then her nephew learned he'd be shipping out. During his first tour, from April 2004 to April 2005, she imagined him on the front lines, and she worried.

But he made it home in good health and was promoted to major. Rosenberg thought higher rank made him less vulnerable to danger. "You think, well, he's not going to be near the fighting this time," she said.

He returned to Iraq shortly after Thanksgiving.

• • •

"Buzz Buzz," his message came a few weeks ago. "Aunt Madelyn, are you there?"

He was there.

Mark Rosenberg, 32, grew up in South Florida. "All boy," his aunt remembers. "Very active, but very lovable."

As long as she can recall, Mark wanted a military career like his father, Burton Rosenberg, had.

He attended New Mexico Military Institute and entered the Army in 1996. He fell in love with a woman named Julie, and they married in a ceremony strategically scheduled one day after his beloved big sister's wedding.

He and Julie had two boys, now 3 and 22 months.

The young family settled in Colorado near Fort Carson, where he was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division.

Then Mark left again. Off to train the Iraqi military.

"He would say he's over there to do a job," Madelyn Rosenberg remembered. "He loved what he was doing." She hoped for the best and kept e-mailing.

• • •

The box held snacks he messaged her about, plus a little extra: beef jerky, microwave popcorn, granola bars, sunflower seeds, Hershey's Kisses, along with Betty Crocker Warm Delights Brownie Bowls, the ones you throw in the microwave. Those were a surprise.

Aunt Madelyn just needed to be sure she had the right address, since her nephew mentioned he might be relocating.

"Don't want to send it and you not get it," she wrote him.

• • •

In her younger years, Rosenberg gravitated toward politics, working on the campaigns of Florida Democrats, including former Gov. Bob Graham. And yet, she said, she didn't form a strong opinion about this war.

She's thought about that and can't explain why. But now her perspective has changed.

Maj. Mark E. Rosenberg died in Baghdad on Tuesday after an improvised explosive device blew up the Humvee he was riding in.

"It's such an obscene waste of life," Madelyn Rosenberg said. "Forty-two-hundred young people killed? That's a sin. There are lives that are cut short, and we don't have a whole lot to show for it as a nation — and I don't know that we will in another decade."

She says this, and she is reminded of her nephew's perspective: It was his duty. He loved it. He chose it.

She sits at her computer and searches for anything written that will help explain what happened. As she sorts through their e-mails, she finds a poem he forwarded:

You crawl into your soft bed, with down pillows and get comfortable.

He tries to sleep but gets woken by mortars and helicopters all night long.

You sit there and judge him, saying the world is probably a worse place because of men like him.

If only there were more men like him.

• • •

The wounded have priority over the dead, an Army colonel tells Rosenberg when she asks how long before her nephew's body is returned to the States.

She doesn't know what to do with her energy.

The family keeps remembering things about Mark. His infectious laugh. His savvy dance moves. How he would have been home in June to celebrate Maxwell's second birthday.

"This is not just a neighbor," she says. "It's more than that when you know where this person came from and what their life was like."

She thinks again about how she hasn't had a strong stance on this war. "I've thought, 'Good grief, how much longer are we going to be there?' " she says.

"Perhaps I thought I've had my say in many ways and it was time for other people to get in this fight," she says.

"But that might change … We need to get past this first."

A box of packed snacks sits on her desk, next to her computer.

Her Yahoo! Messenger list shows Mark is not signed on.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds

contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at

(813) 226-3383.

>>The soldier

Maj. Mark E. Rosenberg

Maj. Mark E. Rosenberg, 32, who grew up in South Florida, died April 8 in Baghdad of wounds suffered when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device.

A click away, then gone 04/11/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 15, 2008 8:27am]
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