Their heads bowed, the McKay family joined hands with their guests around a well-laid Thanksgiving table and blessed the meal, probably one of the last they will have together for many months.

``Lord, we pray for the peace of this day,' Dr. James McKay said softly.McKay, along with about 400 other members of Greensboro's 312th EVAC Hospital Unit, will report Saturday to Fort Bragg to begin a two-to-four-week training period before being shipped out, probably to the Middle East.

Military officials haven't confirmed that McKay's unit will be sent to Saudi Arabia.

``I like that uncertainty,' the Eden physician said. ``It gives me hope of being somewhere else.'

But McKay was trying Thursday not to think about that. Instead, he served as host of a Thanksgiving feast for relatives and fellow reservists Robert and Jana Apgar, who could not go home to Stuart, Va.

McKay also was concentrating on spending a good deal of his time with his wife, Joanne, and his three sons, Jimmy, 10, Jason, 9, and Jordan, 5.

McKay has explained to his sons that he could be going overseas to serve near the front line in an area where tension is high and war a distinct possibility.

``Even the 5-year-old is of an age to understand,' McKay said, as Jordan leaned against his father's leg. ``He saw how upset Joanne, my wife, was and he said, 'Mom, Dad's not a warrior, he's a doctor.' '

Joanne McKay becomes noticeably upset when she starts talking about her husband's departure.

``I'd always told him, 'If they activate your unit, I'll die,' ' she said. ``He got the call, and he didn't tell me for a while. When he did, I thought I'd die.'

Aside from fears for his safety, she wonders how his absence will affect her children, especially 5-year-old Jordan.

``I'll go read him a book, and he'll say 'No, Daddy's going to read it for me,' ' she said. ``Starting Saturday night, that ends.'

``We've never spent this kind of time apart,' she said.

Although McKay's imminent departure was on his family's minds, the mood Thanksgiving Day was anything but somber as their house in the Oaks subdivision in Eden filled with guests, including McKay's aunt, her family and the Apgars.

Because they aren't allowed to travel more than 50 miles from Greensboro before Saturday, Robert and Jana Apgar gladly accepted the McKays' offer to join them for the traditional meal of turkey and pumpkin pie.

``This may be the last hot meal for six months,' Robert Apgar said as he sat down at the dining room table.

Apgar, a surgeon, and his wife, Jana, a nurse anesthetist, already have sent their two boys, 3-year-old Matthew and 8-month-old Shawn, to stay with Jana's sister in Pennsylvania.

``I'm worried about Matthew, who's almost 4, because he's real attached to his mom,' Robert Apgar said. ``When he gets up in the morning, the first thing he wants to know is, 'Where's Mom?' '

Apgar said it will help that Matthew is staying with Jana's sister, an identical twin, and her three young children.

``We told him he was going to live with Aunt Jean, and he thought that was great,' Apgar said.

Jana Apgar said, ``It's hard to explain to a 4-year-old how long six months is, when he doesn't even understand that day after tomorrow is two days.'

The Apgars decided to hold onto their military ties because of the Army's retirement plan for reservists, though it now means a separation from their children.

``Even when we come back, we'll probably stay in just for that,' Robert Apgar said.

``When we come back' were the key words heard frequently during conversations between the Apgars and the McKays.

While both families remain confident that they will be home soon, they are concerned about what effect an extended absence will have on their medical practices.

``It's been growing and thriving,' McKay said of his private practice in Eden, where he specializes in internal medicine and nephrology. ``Now it's come to a screeching halt.'

Area physicians have offered to take care of McKay's patients until he returns, and hospitals have assured him he will be welcomed back.

``I'm not going to be kicked out,' he said. ``I think we can probably withstand several months ... without any tremendous hardship.'

Already, Apgar has been forced to make some major changes concerning his practice in Stuart, Va., where he is one of two surgeons.

``I had to lay off one person and cancel everyone's hospitalization,' he said. Apgar also said he had to cancel about $5,000 worth of surgery.

``I'm gonna be broke by the time we get back,' he said.

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