Tom and Charlotte Sheppard see a lot of movies.

With two boys in the Middle East, a few hours in a dark theater bring welcome escape from Tom's addiction to Fox News.

Although Angel Diaz, 21, and Alex McCall, 26, are Charlotte's sons from previous marriages, the Phoenix Lake man said he misses them like they were his own.

Diaz, an E-5 with the Navy, trains crews in chemical warfare on the USS Nimitz, now stationed in the Persian Gulf.

He e-mails the couple every few days.

But he's not the one Tom, 45, a route driver with CalSierra, and Charlotte, 44, district manager with Millstone Coffee, worry about.

"I know he has a pillow under his head every night," Charlotte said. "Alex, I don't."

Alex serves as lance corporal with the United States Marine Corps.

The last time the two heard from him was about three weeks ago. Alex sent a video on a computer disc from Kuwait, where Alex sat behind a table in front of an American flag and told his family how much he missed and loved them. He also asked for candy and socks.

But that video was recorded about a month before the Sheppards received it. Then Alex went to Iraq, and they haven't heard from him since.

After years of living "on the streets," Charlotte said, Alex earned his high school diploma at adult school in Milpitas and joined the Marines. He wanted to teach his three younger siblings and step-sister not to follow his once-destructive path, and become a respectable son.

"There are things I miss ... my family, homemade meals, music, speaking in the first person, but most of all my mother's voice," Alex wrote in a journal from boot camp. "Things I do not miss ... my so-called friends, staying out all night, laziness and overall civilian life. There is something about the military that feels just right. The respect, the uniformity, and the feeling I get from being a part of something bigger than life."

"We finally had Alex put together and then this war started," Charlotte said. "We thought, 'Oh God, don't let us lose him now.' "

Their fears eased some after the fighting slowed down, Tom said. But they still keep news channels on all evening, hoping for a glimpse of Alex pulling down a statue, holding recovered money or maybe just a mug shot they sent in for stations to air.

They know he's OK, Tom and Charlotte said, because if he were injured or killed, the couple would have been notified immediately.

But they have no idea where in the desert he is.

Photos of Alex and Angel adorn the fireplace in the Sheppard home, near a picture of Tom's father, who served with the Royal Canadian Navy in World War II. Admiration for his step-grandfather inspired Angel to join the Navy, after graduating from Woodcreek High School in Roseville.

"Angel's always had a cocky self-assuredness," Tom said.

Although the boys were not what prompted him, they are one reason Tom is proud that he'll be sworn in as an American citizen next month.

He sports a Canadian maple leaf tattoo on his arm, colored in with stars and stripes.

For now, Tom and Charlotte, who moved to the foothills from San Jose in 2001, said they can't wait for the boys to join the rest of the family in their snowboarding adventures next year at Dodge Ridge. Although they miss them, the Sheppards said their Alex and Angel are fighting for an honorable cause.

"We believe in the president's decision," Charlotte said.

Added Tom, "Even if they don't find weapons, I think the war is justified."

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