War Widow Faces New Battle

RENO, NV - Roberta Stewart's life changed forever September 25, 2005 and little has been easy ever since.

Her husband, Sgt. Patrick Stewart's, helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan. Stewart and Chief Warrant Officer John Flynn, both of the Nevada National Guard, were killed.

He was given a hero's memorial back home, but Roberta's struggles were only beginning.

The Stewarts' were Wiccans, a faith recognized by the Army, but not by the Veterans Administration. It's symbol, the five-pointed pentacle, could not go on his plaque at the Veterans Cemetery in Fernley.

She could have accepted the snub and remained quiet. She didn't.

She sued the V-A and President Bush. In the midst of that battle, Governor Guinn stepped in, declaring state control over the issue. Stewart's plaque could have the Wiccan symbol.

She'd won her personal battle, but carried on for others.

"I was lucky enough to get my governor to give it to me, but it was a gift. A lot of people wanted me to stop then, but that would have been selfish and Patrick wasn't a selfish man."

And she eventually won. Memorials to other Wiccan soldiers now bear the pentacle.

But she and her family paid a price for those battles.

"Backlash came back at my daughter, which I've never talked about. She was actually beaten in Fernley and called a witch."

Two years ago, her pickup truck, the one her husband wanted upon his return from Afghanistan was vandalized. It might have been a random act, but it was easy to imagine it was more fallout from her public battles.

Through all of this, she says, there were surprises among those who stood with her and those who did not. "I couldn't have done it without the support of people here in this state.

She emerged from all that with a new adversary, gastroparesis, a gastrointestinal disorder. Her digestive system has essentially shut down. There's no cure and no known cause, though it would surprise few if it's learned stress has played a role.

She's now sustained by the few liquids she can take and intravenous feedings. She's refused further medical procedures, enrolled in hospice and turning to her faith.

And once again, she's turned a very private battle into a bigger cause.

"There's a need for people to know what gastroparesis is. It could be your child that has it next."

To that end, you'll find more information on the disorder on this website: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/gastroparesis/

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