She sat in the front pew looking up at the altar. Tears slipped down her cheeks, unnoticed, as she prayed intently for her son and soon-to-be daughter-in-law.
Her husband was at work so Jeanne Burris sat alone in the sanctuary of the Brazil Nazarene Church in the early afternoon of May 27. Soon she was joined by Paul and Kim Wetnight. The three proud, happy but very worried parents discussed the wedding of their children, that would be held this night, and the bridegroom's impending deployment to Baghdad, Iraq, June 10.
Tracee C. Burris enlisted in the U.S. Army soon after he graduated from the Homeschooled Goals Academy May 27, 2003. The 18-year-old had basic training in Fort Sills, Okla., then completed his Advanced Individual Training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. E2 Tracee Burris is a motor transport operator and is qualified to drive any kind of wheeled vehicle the Army has.
When he returned home in February, Tracee volunteered to go to Iraq. At the time he was single, had no children and said he was perfect for the mission.
Tracee Burris and Sarah Wetnight knew of each other because their families has attended the same church periodically. But the two never hung around together so had little contact.
A junior at Northview High School, Sarah was working at Taco Bell Restaurant April 2, when Tracee came through the line. They talked and Sarah asked him to the Prom.
It was a classic case of love at first sight. Three days later Sarah told her mom, "This is the one".
They dated, went to the prom and the courtship intensified quickly.
"He's very well-mannered and old fashioned," Paul Wetnight, Sarah's dad said.
Paul is with the Indiana National Guard 38th MSB Co. B stationed in Charleston, S.C.
On May 8, Tracee called Paul in South Carolina to ask for permission to marry his daughter.
"Because of being military, he didn't know whether to call me Sir, Mister or Sergeant," Paul said. "He stammered a little then finally said, 'I'd like to marry your daughter.'"
Tracee said they planned to get married when he returned from Baghdad in a year and a half. Paul said it would be fine, thinking that would be plenty of time for them to know if it was the real thing.
Paul flew home May 10, for five days, to talk with his daughter and her fiancé and to give them some council. He had been in Desert Storm. Tracee was going to Iraq. He understood some of the emotions that Tracee was dealing with.
By the time Paul got home, however, he was shocked to learn that Tracee and Sarah had decided they wanted to get married before he left for Iraq.
"We all talked, counseled and prayed," Paul said.
"We put them through the mill," Jeanne added, "Tracee told me that 'a moment of happiness is better than never having it at all.'"
Paul and Kim both agreed that since Sarah would be 18 in August, they didn't feel they could deny her something now that she could legally do without their permission in three months.
"They're very mature for their ages," Kim said. "Tracee said that if he should not come back, at least he knows that Sarah will be taken care of for the rest of her life. He's made a will and transferred Power of Attorney."
"It seemed to be a true exchange of the hearts," Jeanne spoke, softly. "Sarah realizes that she could become a very young widow or have a husband who's maimed. But it's God's will. That's how I accept it. It's God's will.
"We have so many blessings in this country," Jeanne continued. "Like every day I get up and go to work. I don't have to worry about getting attacked. Freedom isn't free. It comes at a huge cost whether it be the loss of a father, mother sister, child.." Jeanne's voice trailed off and tears again puddled. She wiped them away with her hands, unaware of her actions.
After much talking and praying, the parents all gave their blessings for the union. By the time Paul returned to South Carolina May 15, the date was set and the wedding had been planned.
The happy, excited couple exchanged vows Thursday evening before God, family and friends at the Nazarene Church.
Paul walked his daughter down the aisle and gave her away to her groom. Both men were dressed in Class A military uniform of Dress Greens. The bride looked radiant in a traditional white wedding gown.
Sarah and her dad sang, "Endless Love" by Lionel Richie and Diana Ross, and "From This Moment On" by Shania Twain and Brian White.
"She wanted me to sing 'Butterfly kisses'," Paul said. "But there was no way I could get through that."
They are now Mr. and Mrs. Tracee Burris. Sarah will live with her parents or his and complete her senior year of high school next year then start college.
The honeymoon will wait for Tracee's return but they'll have a few precious days to share before he leaves for Iraq.
"Now they're feeling the impact of everything." Paul said. "They've been watching the news. They're actually hitting convoys over there. It's really scary. We're at war but there's rules of engagement. We can't fire on anyone unless we're fired on first.
"I wasn't going to deny our daughter happiness when her future husband was going to go fight for this great country. I think every soldier needs to know there's someone back home who loves him and cares."