A Purple Heart And A Ticket Out: PFC JIM BEVERLY, 19


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Brendan Smialowski / Getty

A soldier arranges Purple Hearts, Combat Infantry Badges and Combat Action Badges before a Purple Heart ceremony at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

This is not what a mother wants to hear on the phone from her son serving in the Army in Iraq: "Well, I got my Purple Heart." Those words, delivered in a morphine slur, gave life to Jocelyn Perge's second worst nightmare about her son Jim Beverly. Perge's ex-husband Charles Beverly felt his stomach drop when he got the same call from Jim, who had suffered shrapnel wounds to his face, hand and knee in the Dec. 10 grenade attack on a humvee. Then Charles experienced a powerful sense of relief. "He was on the phone, talking to me," he says of his son. "He's alive."

Jocelyn, 47, a first-grade teacher in Akron, Ohio, had opposed Jim's enlistment. His entire senior year of high school, he had talked about following his father and grandfather into the service. But because he was only 17 when he graduated, Jim needed both parents' permission to sign up. Thinking her son was just going through a phase, Jocelyn refused. She still "was in denial," she says, when he joined the Army two days after turning 18. Nonetheless, she says, "I'm proud of him for doing what he believed in." Although Jocelyn opposes the war, she never leaves the house without her gold star, a pin distributed by a local bank in support of the troops. Jim's father, a Vietnam veteran, was always enthusiastic about his son's enlistment. "It's an excellent idea for the education. You play the odds and figure they were in your favor," says Charles, 53, district manager for a photography company in Youngstown, Ohio.

Jocelyn confesses that once she was assured Jim's life was not in danger, she was worried the shrapnel had permanently disfigured her handsome son. "I know it's ridiculous," she says. "He's alive." Charles says he knows that Jim, who will spend Christmas recuperating in Akron, has the strength to prevail over this setback.

Both parents speak of Jim's sense of humor, and a creative bent that helps him escape. He likes to sketch characters from computer games and has a particular fondness for Lara Croft, Tomb Raider. His mother was surprised--and pleased--to learn his unit is called the Tomb Raiders. "That seems so appropriate for him," she says. Jim, who wants to become a journalist, has sketched characters and fantasy figures since childhood. He's good enough that his training unit at boot camp had him design a bulldog logo for their T shirts. Jocelyn knows he's running low on drawing supplies when she receives the rare letter home, asking for more colored pencils and notebooks. Jim also "draws a mean Sonic," another computer-game character that's a favorite of her first-graders. The kids know Jocelyn's son is in the war, and "they ask all the time if he's O.K.," she says. At Thanksgiving, the children brought her turkey drawings they had made for him. When she told them Jim had been hurt, they started making get-well cards. "I like being around them," she says. "It's comforting." --By Maggie Sieger/Chicago