July 2, 2007

Best friends, local heroes, to be reunited over July 4th

By Karrah Anderson
Staff Writer

Every day, we hear about our men and women in uniform, who have suited up and worn our red, white, and blue proudly on their sleeves.

These people, from every branch of the military, have neutralized themselves from political wings, and fight for the fundamental beliefs their country stands for.

Most importantly, these men and women have found something to be passionate about that exemplifies strength in mind, body, and spirit.

It is easy to watch the news and hear about the war or people in the service and take it as statistics and “news,” because many people have no personal face on the war, but that is different for some local families in Delano – the families of Jake Converse and Simon Litke, both who have sons in the military, both who are returning very soon.

Jake and Simon have been friends for many adventurous years. Their mothers will attest to this. Ever since their sophomore year in high school, these two have been attached at the hip, up until their time in the service.

According to their families, there was never a dull moment when these guys were together.

“They both have radiant smiles and are so happy-go-lucky,” Jake’s mother, Rhonda Converse, explained, “They were always doing some stunt.”

It was a joint decision to both enter the military, they intended on going into the National Guard. Both Rhonda and Nicki Peterson, Simon’s mom, were nervous for them to enter the service, but felt better about them going together.

“I was a little leery about them going into the service together,” Rhonda laughed. “I didn’t know what antics they were capable of together in the service.”

So, Jake enlisted in the National Guard his junior year of high school, but Simon decided to wait a year. A year later, he enlisted with the Marines.

“If they were going to go into the service, it was better that they both would go, even if it was separate branches,” Nicki said.

Nicki thought they both wanted to go to not only serve their country, but also to test their manhood and to “grow up a little.”

It was a difficult decision to accept, for both families. They respected their sons’ decisions, but it was still hard to let them leave the safety of home.

“As a mother, you know, you’re supposed to keep your children out of harm’s way, and now I couldn’t do it – it was heartbreaking,” Nicki explained.

Although it was hard to accept, Nicki said she was proud of Simon, because it was an admirable career choice and he really knew this was what he wanted to do.

Simon completed his four years in the Marines in the 2/4 Echo Company. During the past four years, he has served in many different countries, including two tours in Iraq. In his second tour in Iraq, he was promoted to corporal. He has also received a letter of commendation.

He and his wife, Megan, will be moving back to Delano just in time for the Fourth of July and Jake’s return to the states.

His family is very excited to see him. It’s been hard to keep in touch with him due to limited communication on his many different tours.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been four years,” Robert Litke, Simon’s father, remarked. “You know, we don’t know him as a man, we’re excited to get reacquainted.”

Jake will be home over the Fourth of July as well. He was deployed to Iraq in September 2006, and will be back on a 15-day leave. His deployment is set for him to return home in November of this year.

The Converse family is a very tight-knit family, and this deployment has been difficult for them, but communication with Jake and his company has made it a lot easier to keep up their morale. Rhonda explained that Jake tries to call every week. They have a phone tree set up where at least one person gets to talk to him, and that person is responsible for letting everyone else know that he is okay.

His captains also send updates very frequently, making a point to inform the families and friends of the soldiers of what they are up to.

Jake has been busy with many missions, both personal and commanded.

“He rewired everything for the camp, and even the Marines used him too,” Rhonda explained. However, when Jake is home, the Army will be the furthest thing from his mind.

“There will be no discussing of the Army. He just wants to catch up with people,” Rhonda explained.

Both mothers are excited to have their sons back at the same time. They want to keep it light and just spend time with family and friends.

“Simon planned his move home around this time so he could pick Jake up from the airport,” Nicki said.

The relationship these boys share extends outward to their families. Nicki said it will be good to have them both around again, that it will be the whole family together.

“They went from friends to non- birth brothers,” Nicki said. “They are such personable and entertaining kids. It’s exciting we will all be together.”

Simon and Jake plan to work for Simon’s stepfather together, once Jake is home from his deployment.

There are so many soldiers out there who are fighting for their country, many we will never personally know, but Jake and Simon have truly illustrated their own personal strength for serving their country while maintaining a friendship and a bond that survived many different countries, time zones, and communication barriers.

Their reunion may be short-lived this time, but their friendship will last a lifetime.

Another thing making this time special for Jake and his family, is that he will be home over his birthday, which is very important to the Converse family. Rhonda plans to gather friends and family, Simon included, and make Jake’s favorite dinner and cake.

This will be a unique Independence Day for both families. Both Rhonda and Nicki have tried hard to ignore the negative press and bad news about the war and military and focus on keeping the faith. The boys’ return is something they have been really looking forward to.

“You just pray every day and keep the faith,” Rhonda explained. “I’m just excited about giving him a hug and to see him at home, safe.”

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