I lived about 15 miles from Fort Bragg, North Carolina from 1994 to 2012, in a rural area where many Army officers and members of the various Special Forces groups based there made their home. After 9/11, our area was immediately impacted as Fort Bragg forces were some of the first deployed in the War on Terror. We were reminded daily of the sacrifices these families were making – the dad who wasn’t there to participate in Little League with the kids or read a bedtime story or attend awards ceremonies at the elementary school, or any of the hundreds of little things that make up family life. Unfortunately, some of the dads never made it home.
Tiffany and I became friends when our boys were in the same Cub Scout pack. I knew it was difficult for her to keep everything together at home while her husband, a Green Beret, was in parts unknown for months at a time – and when there were constant reports on the nightly news of injuries and casualties halfway around the world. But I didn’t realize the depths of the pain and trials she and other military wives experienced until a few years ago. That Memorial Day she wrote about losses her husband’s small unit sustained during one deployment, and with her permission, I am sharing it here in full.
In the early days of the war I remember watching the news religiously. I was always shocked at how much information the media would give about the location of our guys. It really bothered me. And, of course, we could find out in almost real time if we had lost another Green Beret.
I remember a particular day when I heard a news bulletin telling of not one but two fatalities from our very small unit. My heart sank. The phone tree was abuzz, with all of us trying to find out. Was it me? Would I hear the knock on the door? As every military wife has done, I imagined my response. What I would say or do? How would I react? Would I cry, yell, tell them to leave? Ask them in? What would be best for my children? Step outside?
Thankfully that knock did not come for me that day. It did for two other wives.
I knew I had to go to their memorial service. I would want other wives to show support if it had been me, so alone I decided to go.
I got up that morning feeling brave. I got dressed and did my makeup, yet thought that seemed strange. I’m not sure why. I drove to the Special Forces chapel alone. I quietly walked inside and found my seat on a pew in the back half. I wasn’t comfortable sitting up close to the family. I was concerned that so many seats were empty, but most of our guys were gone, so I understood.
Looking around at the windows I found it so strange then that the stained glass included soldiers with guns in a church. Guns and church didn’t seem to go together.
Now I understand. Those windows show the depth of man’s soul in a battle. There is probably not a place closer to God – or seemingly further from Him – on this earth.
Shortly before the memorial began a very long line of young soldiers entered the chapel, filling every available space. It was standing room only. I later found out they pulled students from the local training unit over as a show of support. I watched these young guys and wondered what they were thinking.
I don’t remember much of what was said that day, but I clearly remember the final roll call. The command calls the name of each soldier on the team. (12) Each soldier answers “Here, Sgt Major” until they get to the fallen soldier. Their name is called, and when there is no answer there is the volley of gunfire.
I will never forget the agonizing wail from the wife of one soldier that day. My heart hurt for her. I feel horrible pain inside just remembering that sound. I realized that volley symbolized the last sound her husband heard before he was killed. What were his last thoughts? That sound is deafening. Did he know that was it? Did he have a chance to think of her? Was he in pain? I figured these might be her thoughts. They were holding her on her feet now. It was so hard to watch I closed my eyes.
I quickly walked away from that chapel, feeling a lot less brave. I got into my car and quietly sobbed.
I wish I had never gone that day. Fear enveloped my life, fear of that wailing pain. I tried to outrun the fear. I couldn’t run fast enough. I tried to pray my way out of the pain. The sleeplessness clouded my mind. I could no longer eat or drink, certain my knock would come.
Eventually I chose to end my marriage. I couldn’t wait for this certain end. I loved him too much. I wallowed away in a bottle, to the shock and disgust of most I knew. My mind was twisted with the sorrow of the sound of the wife’s cry. It haunted me, and does to this day.
Those months were the longest of my life. I know what I felt, and also knew that my pain could never amount to hers.
I am beyond grateful that Rich made it home that deployment. Many did not. It was a rough year for our unit. He came home, broken himself, to a wife who could hardly hang on.
How grateful I am that together with the blessings of our temple marriage and the power of the atonement we were able to be healed of the wounds inflicted that deployment. But every year on Memorial Day I remember that wife. I remember her pain and her sacrifice. I remember her son, and the loss he must have felt. I remember they gave all.
I think people forget that most soldiers do not join thinking they will fight this particular political foe. They join to protect America. They don’t pick a side. It isn’t about that to these patriots. It’s protecting their home and fellow citizens. Leave the politics to the politicians and hold them accountable. But love the soldier. He loves America.
Tiffany shared with me that the weeks around Memorial Day are extremely difficult for many combat veterans, who are remembering their brothers in arms who didn’t get to come back home. Some replay battle scenes in their mind, second-guess split-second choices or wonder why they were the ones who survived.
When we honor and remember those who gave their lives on Memorial Day, we should also remember the parents, spouses, siblings, and children left behind – their pain and their sacrifice. They gave all.