MISSION FIRST: A Mother's Love




Dec. 16, 2013

by Tim Volkmann

Sending your child to attend the world's premier military institution would give just about any parent a reason for pause. In an ever-shifting world climate where the specter of combat is illustrated in our daily headlines, the prospect of watching your son or daughter train at an academy dedicated solely to producing the future leaders of our nation's Army is not always easy to accept.

Meet Elizabeth LoRusso -- a wife, mother and high school teacher who has spent the last 28 years raising a family on the north shore of central Long Island. All born within a five-year span, her four boys -- Nicholas, Kevin, Brian and Larry -- grew up like any other set of brothers, playing sports and getting into adventures in their small hamlet of Rocky Point, N.Y. However, the common thread that ties her boys even tighter together is that of the United States Military Academy and the exceptional experience that all four endured, not only in the classrooms of its hallowed walls, but on the lacrosse field as well.

"When I first heard West Point was interested in Nicholas, it was very exciting but very scary," reminisces Elizabeth. "I was always apprehensive about the boys going into the military because there are obvious dangers in doing that. If it was up to me, they would all be living at home and I'd be tucking them in every night. But kids grow up and I was really honored that the toughest school in the country wanted my sons. There aren't a lot of people who can make it into West Point. It's amazing that I have four."

The LoRusso brothers grew up at the epicenter of a neighborhood full of kids their age on a street that was transformed daily into a hockey rink, a football field or some other type of arena for the myriad of games conceived by their young minds. No matter the contest, competition was always the name of the game.

"All of these games usually started a lot of fights," smiles Brian. "Being as competitive as we all were, you never wanted to be the one that was sitting out. While a lot of games ended with bloody lips or noses, it was always a lot of fun. We always competed in everything we did, whether it was between us brothers, or against the other kids."

Internal competition in the LoRusso house was a way of life. If one brother could do 10 pull-ups, the other needed to do 11. Spontaneous push-up competitions during television commercials were a common occurrence. It was Mom, however, that stressed the value in sticking together as brothers early on.

"My rules were you just weren't allowed to fight with each other. We used to sing a little song that went, `We're the LoRusso brothers, you don't mess with us, because we're rough and we're tough and we always stick together.' I wanted them to learn to watch out for each other, and they did. You knew you were going to be messing with all of them if you tried to mess with one. I remember one time when Larry got in trouble at school for pushing another boy down that had shoved one of his older brothers. He was only in first grade."

Adds Brian, "Mom was the enforcer, the peacemaker and everything in between. She definitely kept everything together. She was the strongest lady I know in terms of being able to deal with us. I'm not sure how she was able to do that since we were such little `terrorizers' growing up.

"Along with our father, she encouraged us to do a lot of different things and really focused on making sure we built a good relationship as brothers growing up. She really stressed how important it was that we always rely on, and look out for one another and be best friends. We still are to this day. A lot of that has to do with her."

The boys were encouraged to play a wide variety of sports by both of their parents. Elizabeth grew up competing in gymnastics, while their father, Larry Sr., competed in a broad range of sports, including competitive body building. The boys learned at a young age valuable lessons in what it took to be successful by listening to their parents' stories and following their example.

Says Larry Jr. about his elder namesake, "I remember when he would get up at 4 o'clock in the morning to go work out and then he would go to work. He would come home and then go work out again. He was in great shape and was pretty intimidating. You definitely didn't want to get into any trouble with him at that point."

Family also played a large role when it came to choosing their favorite sport -- lacrosse. While the brothers grew up playing organized football, wrestling and soccer, it was lacrosse that ran in their family's blood. The boys' first idol was their mother's cousin, Greg Kulesa, who was an All-America goalie in high school as well as at nearby Adelphi University, where they watched him win a pair of national championships. Greg's mother, Marj, also bought each of her grandnephews their first lacrosse stick when they made their First Holy Communion. These special occasions were always celebrated in many ways, but none were bigger than unwrapping their very own stick.

It was Mom, however, that offered the boys their first bit of coaching.

"I told them that they had a very big advantage. `You know each other very well and know what the other guy is going to do. So you should all play different positions so you can move the ball up the field well when you are all able to play together when you get older.' So, we wound up with a goalie (Nick), a defenseman (Larry) and two midfielders (Kevin, Brian)."

West Point started recruiting Nick during his junior year of high school. When he came back from his first visit, he knew it was exactly where he wanted to go. Over the next four years, Kevin was also recruited by the Black Knights, followed by Brian and Larry as well. Several other schools showed interest in Larry's lacrosse talents, but there was no way he could be the only brother that didn't go to West Point. For each brother, their college search ended up not going much past the shores of the Hudson River.

"During high school, the boys played a lot of games in a lot of different places so we would always go check other schools out," says Elizabeth. "Being the oldest, Nick probably did the most looking around, but it always ended up being West Point. They all said the idea of going into the military was appealing because of the `fun' things you got to do like blow things up, shoot guns and jump out of helicopters."

Before any of her sons made their final decisions, Elizabeth always made sure all four knew that they had several options when it came to choosing a school to attend. Even with the growing prospect that a free education was a possibility for them at West Point, she assured them she would work another job to help pay for them to go to another school if that is what they wanted.

"Like any mother, she was nervous," explains Kevin. "She didn't necessarily want her boys going in the Army after school was over. She was very protective of us and said we didn't have to do anything we didn't want to. Now, I think she is pretty happy we all went to West Point and in the end, sees how much of a good thing it has been."

"Bringing Nick up on `R-Day' was exciting but also scary and overwhelming at the same time," recalls Elizabeth. "Here we were, dropping him off at a prestigious school, but it definitely wasn't what I would imagine the typical first day of college is normally like. Hearing the, `You have one minute to say your goodbyes' announcement before he left us was like having my heart ripped out. You hear rumors about what is going to happen to your son and how they might not make it through, but then you learn that the Army really is being careful with the cadets and see the support they have, and it makes you rest a bit easier."

Over the course of a nine-year span since Nick first started at West Point, there have only been a handful of Army lacrosse games that have not been attended by at least one of the LoRusso parents. From Colorado and Minnesota, to Texas, Florida and everywhere in between, the boys have always appreciated how amazing it has been to look up and see a familiar face in the stands every single time they set foot on the field.

"I realize how fortunate we have been to have one or both of them at every one of our games," says Larry. "There are some guys who don't even get to see their parents at all during the season because they don't have the time to travel. My brothers and I all know how lucky we really have been that they are able to do that."

Adds Kevin, "Even after a tough loss, my mom was always the first one there to give me a hug and tell me how great I did, even when I didn't have my best game. Both my parents were always very supportive."

When she was not traipsing around the country watching her sons play, Elizabeth teaches Family and Consumer Science courses at Longwood High School. Appropriately enough, she also teaches Parenting and Child Development classes to her high school students.

"She is one of the most driven people I know," explains Brian. "I remember when she was working on her master's degree while we were all little kids running around. She was able to follow her dream and still hasn't stopped taking classes even after all this time. Between online and night classes, I can't remember a year when she has decided not to take something else. She wants to further herself and be the best there is. I've met her students before and they all talk about how awesome she is and how much they love her. I guess we were her practice growing up, trying to teach us everything. I think she did a great job."

An era came to an end in the spring of 2012 as Larry and Brian not only played their final games in an Army uniform, but followed in the footsteps of Nick (USMA '07) and Kevin (USMA '09) and received their diplomas. All four LoRusso brothers are now currently serving our U.S. Army.

"It's emotional because I can't believe we don't have games to go to any more. It was bittersweet because it was such a wonderful experience for us for so many years. We've met a lot of great people and became friends with the other boys on the team and their parents from year to year. I still communicate with the mothers of former players and we keep a running list of who is deployed and where everyone is going. It is a constant reminder that, even if your kid isn't at war right now, other boys that have become part of our family are. We live close enough to West Point that many of them have been at my house through the years. It is so nice to know that it is another type of motherhood for all the mothers of the team because I know our boys would be welcome at any of their houses as well."

No other mother in the history of West Point has ever sent more of her sons to train at this great American institution. And no other mother could feel the same about the person all of her sons have become.

"I'm just really proud of my kids. I always just wanted to raise good people and that's what they are. The fact they wanted to serve their country and understood the commitments they were making, especially the younger two who had two older brothers that could come home and tell them the truth behind closed doors when Mommy wasn't listening, means the world. It helped that they really wanted to do it, even though there was a time I might have tried to talk them out of it. Now I see the men they have become. And I'm very proud."

Check back tomorrow for LT. COL. JENNIFER (JOHNSTON) McAFEE: When Tragedy Strikes.

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