A soldier, a husband, a daddy, a son, and a brother died this week. Tonight I learned the devestating news that a dear sister in Christ received the very worst and most unimaginable news that the love of her life will never come home. He was killed in Afghanistan. The thoughts and feelings that run through my mind and body right now are all too familiar. I have never received the news that she had to endure this week, but something all too similar.
It was July 2004 and our first son had just been born a month and a half earlier. We were blessed enough that my soldier was able to come home on leave from his deployment in Iraq to see his son be born into this world. Those were the happy moments of 2004. Then, there was July 1, 2004. That day will forever be remembered in our house as the day that daddy came all too close to being gone forever.
My very best friend and I lived two houses away from each other on our military post at the time. Both of our soldiers were deployed to the same base in Iraq. We spent our evenings together, cooking meals for our kiddos and watching comedies to try and keep our minds off of our husbands being gone. She was up that night chatting with her husband over the computer when suddenly he typed that he had to go. The internet was being turned off. There had been an accident, a very bad accident and families would have to be notified. They didn’t want news leaking out to the family members before they could be contacted through Army channels, so all communication had to be cut off until it was done. My friend’s last words to her husband were, “Do you know where (my soldier) is?” His response: “No, I have not seen him today.” Then, the line went dead. She didn’t know what to do. Should she call me? Should she tell me what was going on? We had a trip planned to keep us busy over the 4th of July weekend. We were driving miles away and staying in her brother’s house while we shopped some of the biggest outlet malls in the area. She decided to call. “Have you talked to your soldier,” she asked. “Yep, I did yesterday,” I said. “He is on a convoy and will call me in a couple of days.” Her heart sunk. He was on that convoy. “Well, be sure to tell your Family Readiness Group leader where you’ll be,” she said. All Army wives keep in close contact while our husbands are away and its important that the chain of command know if we are taking trips or leaving base for any extended period of time while our soldiers are on deployment. “I’ll email her,” I said. I had a new cell phone number, so I emailed my Family Readiness Group leader my plans to leave town and my new cell number in case she needed to get ahold of me. She never got that email. I finished packing our bags that night and the next morning we left bright and early for the drive.
That night we stopped to have dinner at a restaurant and were just ordering when my friend’s cell phone rang. I watched her reach into her purse and move things around looking for her phone. Finally finding it, she put it to her ear and said, “hello.” Within seconds her face went white. She wasn’t smiling and didn’t look happy, but scared. Without saying a word, she took the phone from her ear and handed it over the table to me. It was at that very second that I knew something was terribly wrong. I took the phone. “Hello,” I said. “Baby, its me and I’m okay, but there has been an accident.” I knew it was him, but his voice didn’t sound right at all. I later learned that it was because his tongue was swollen out of his mouth, so talking was extremely difficult. The connection was also terrible. He was calling from a satellite phone half a world away. The conversation was short. We said, “I love you” to each other a hundred times and then he hung up.
After that, I did all of the things that military wives do. I called his parents. I called my parents. I called my husband’s commander’s wife and that is when I learned the details. My husband had been riding in the back of an unarmed Humvee. He was in the turret when all of a sudden he heard something that was so loud that he immediately couldn’t hear anymore. He was thrown up into the air and then came back down, his leg and ankle getting caught in chains. He was hanging upside down with dust and blood covering his face and eyes, so that he could not see. There was chaos, voices, and dust. Another soldier from the vehicle behind his ran to my soldier and got him down. They took him to the side of the road and called for a medic. “What happened,” he asked. “An IED,” they said. My soldier tried to get up, he kept telling them he was okay. He was not okay! He wanted to help, he knew his friend was dead. He knew his other buddy was still pinned inside the truck. He wanted to help, he wanted to get up, but they wouldn’t let him. It wasn’t until the medic got to him that he knew that maybe he wasn’t “okay.” A very young medic showed up beside my husband and hollered, “Holy hell,” when he saw his face. Blown completely open like a banana when it is peeled, the flesh beneath his nose, mouth, and cheeks were all totally exposed. Blood everywhere and debris too, my husband suddenly had the urge to spit. He did, and then immediately regretted it, feeling metal and hard chunks leave his mouth and thinking that he may have just spit out his teeth. After that, his mind is kind of a blur and the next things he remembers are all inside of the mobile medical station. They x-rayed him, finding a metal bolt from the vehicle lodged inside of his shoulder and tons of metal shrapnel in his face. As he lay there looking up at the ceiling his thoughts finally came around to us. He thought about how scared I would be. Moments later, he was in surgery. After over 700 stitches were used to put his face back together and the bolt removed from his shoulder he woke up in recovery and was given a satellite phone to call home. That is when he called me.
There were more days that he stayed in Iraq and when it was safe they flew him to Germany. After a two week stay in the hospital there, they flew him to Walter Reed in Washington D.C. After that, he came home to finish his recovery with me and the kids. He doesn’t like to be called a hero. He says he just survived. To me, he is a hero! Yes, he didn’t die that day, but he carries the scars of that event with him every single day of his life. There is not a day that goes by where someone doesn’t ask him about his face. NOT ONE DAY! For a while we didn’t go too many places. Having to explain those scars was just too much. Now, he wears his scars with pride because it gives him the opportunity to tell people about his friend and fellow soldier who died that day. He gets to tell people about his hero, the young man who gave the ultimate sacrifice.