About a week ago my husband and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary - a day that was wonderful for the simple fact that he was here which was not expected to be the case. An anniversary, especially in the early years of marriage, should be exciting and romantic and full of joy. The date of this day is still difficult for us. Because while it is the mark in time when we said in front of friends and family that we choose eachother for this life, it also marks one of the most difficult days in my husband's 12 years of service. And we do not forget it, we do not try to ignore it, we honor it, we honor a sacrifice.
It was early in the morning - the dead of night, actually - when his blackberry rang. There was only one reason it would ring at this time. Wives didn't have the guts to call so late and injured soldiers usually didn't have calls sent until after 5 am. I knew what this was. A soldier had been killed.
It is important to understand why my husband was receiving this call. Less than two months before the scheduled deployment - when his gear and tough boxes were already packed and ready to ship - he was presented with two options. They asked for his preference and he brought the options home to me. That day plays out in my mind repeatedly and I wish it wouldn't. The decision we made haunts me - and those who know me well understand why. The week of his change-of-command for Delta Company (which was surprising because he had not completed the career course yet) a new Captain was sent down from Division to the Brigade to the Battalion. To be honest, C was relieved. To lead men into combat, men he had deployed with before, without the usual training worried him. Nick had already replaced him as XO so there were two positions available to him. The Battalion S4 or the rear-d commander.
I was newly married, not nearly as strong in mind as I am now, and pregnant. He said he would go with whatever I said. Had it been now, I would understand the importance of him to deploy, I would understand the look in his eyes hating the idea of staying behind. I would have not hesitated - I would not have cried in front of him. I would have said, "Go," with a reassuring smile on my face letting him know that I would be okay. But I didn't know then, I didn't understand, so I asked him to stay and he did. And so he was the one who received the phone calls when a soldier had given the ultimate sacrifice, he called the families when a soldier had been wounded, he attended the funerals. My heart hurts remembering it all.
The phone call was quick, short, as it usually was in this case.
"Yes, sir," he said, " I will be there in thirty minutes."
His body went into go mode. He was showered and dressed in just a couple minutes. He kissed me goodbye said, "I'll call you when I can" and was gone.
I didn't go back to sleep. I usually couldn't so I turned on the coffee pot and put in my Grey's Anatomy to wait.
It was late morning - almost noon - when he woke me. I had fallen asleep on the couch to the sound of the grey's anatomy dvd menu. His eyes were red - not from lack of sleep, from pain. I sat right up.
"It was Nick," he said quietly. My heart stopped.
It was his friend. It was someone he felt horrible had had to cut his PL time short because of the mix-up with his job. It was someone he knew to be a good soldier and a good person. I couldn't speak.
"I want to escort the body," he said in a horribly flat tone. Void of emotion. I knew he was in shock.
I didn't cry. "Why am I not crying?" I kept thinking to myself. "Why am I not crying?"
He spent our first anniversary at a company brief. I went with him because he asked me to. He could not say the name. His commander said it for him.
I still did not cry.
The chaplain addressed the spouses gathered there for information. He was a kind man but not a good speaker. He asked who was hurting, everyone raised hands. Who was shocked, everyone raised hands. Who felt guilty. The tears started pouring down my face. I looked for C, he had left the room.
It was guilt. I felt heart-wrenching, stomach twisting guilt. Maybe if I had not asked him to stay, he could somehow have stayed XO. Nick wouldn't have been hurt. His mother would not have lost her son. His family would not be broken.
But mine would. More guilt twisted my core. Nick should not have died - not him - but I never wanted to lose C either. More guilt.
It took a long time for the guilt to subside - it may not have left totally. It takes a long time to come to peace with a good man's death. It takes a long time to forgive - even if the guilt is not completely rational.
When a soldier passes, the family mourns, his comrades mourn, his comrades' families mourn because a soldier's death touches us all. Every soldier who sacrifices could have been our soldier. Every young child who kisses the face of their father's picture at a memorial, could be our child. And every new widow presented with a flag could be us. We all weep. We all mourn. We all feel broken.
We honor them for their duty. We honor them for their service. We honor them for their sacrifice.
No soldier can die alone. No soldier goes unremembered.
It should be that way.
"A soldier doesn't fight because he hates what is in front of him. A soldier fights because he loves what he left behind." - unknown
"God is our refuge and strength. He will protect us and make us strong" (ps 46:1). For those who will fly today, for those who are there now, and for those who will soon join the fight, Lord, shield them from all evil, strengthen their hearts, and bring them home safely.