Memorial Day

Memorial Day

I don’t remember my very first Memorial Day as an Army Wife, but I do recall that it was 2003, and my husband was serving his first tour of duty in Tikrit, Iraq, at that time.

I also remember that in 2003, Memorial Day began to mean fathoms more to me than it had before because that year, 4 men in Alan’s unit died.

Memorial Day

photo courtesy of Rachel Jack

SSG Steven W. White

SPC. Richard Arriaga

SGT. Anthony O. Thompson

SPC. James C. Wright

I didn’t personally know these men or their families. Alan only knew one of them.

You would think that these deaths of soldiers serving with my husband and my friends’ husbands would have made me extremely fearful and anxious for Alan’s safety.

But I can’t explain it to you. I did not feel all that worried about Alan’s safe return. I always just figured he’d return home without a scratch. That sounds foolish, but you have to remember that I was 21, perhaps that’s yet another reason we let our young adults fight our wars. Some of us, like me, are still brazen enough to believe nothing tragic will ever happen to them.

Unfortunately, so many tragedies did happen, and are still happening all around us. In the past few weeks, several soldiers from Alan’s duty station have been killed in action in Afghanistan, and it always hurts.

It may not be us, and yet it IS us. Every one of these service members IS us, and they gave their very lives to fight for our country.

I asked my friends to share photos of friends and family members who were killed in action defending the red, white, and blue. It always makes it more real to me when I see the pictures and am reminded of those whom we have lost.

Today we want to honor all the men and women who have given all they had for this country.

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”  –John 15:13

CPT Leif Nott., Operation Iraqi Freedom (photo from Sally Chavous)

Sally was one of my best Army wife buddies during Alan’s first deployment.

Sally wrote:

“This photo of Captain Leif Nott was taken the day the guys left. He was killed during OIF 1. He was in 1-10 CAV with Jon (Sally’s husband) and was killed in Belaruz, Iraq July 30, 2003.

The news of Leif’s death really impacted me (Jon too). Going to his funeral was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. He is buried in Cheyenne, WY. I remember the streets were lined with people between the church and cemetery.”

Sally and Jon also lost their friend CPT Matt Mattingly. He served with 1-10 CAV as well but he was killed during another deployment with the 82nd airborne in Mosel, Iraq in September 2006. I don’t have a pic of Matt.

 

Memorial Day

Sgt. Michael J. Knapp (1983-2012), Asadabad, Afghanistan, photo from forever missed.

My friend Kasey wrote, “He and his wife were dear friends of ours when we were stationed in Ft Lewis. We were in the same small group together.”

 

This next one is in our own family, Alan’s Uncle Carey.

 

Memorial Day

Carey Allen Cunningham, Vietnam War, USAF, photo courtesy of Anna Cunningham

Anna writes:

“Captain Carey Allen Cunningham, USAF, Navigator of an F4 Phantom. Shot down over North Vietnam while on a reconnaissance mission on August 2nd, 1967.

Status: killed in action, body not recovered until April, 1998, when new mitochondrial DNA testing was advanced enough to identify his remains so we could have a funeral. He was buried at the cemetery in his hometown of Collinsville, Alabama, overlooking his High School.

He is my Dad.”

 

 

Rachel, another one of my best Army wife buddies from way back, sent me a photo of SPC. Richard Arriaga, one of the 4 soldiers in Alan’s very first unit who died while they were serving in OIF I.

Memorial Day

SPC. Richard Arriaga, photo courtesy of Rachel Jack

He was only 20, of Ganado, Texas; was killed Sept. 18 during an ambush by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades in Tikrit, Iraq.

We’ve lost so many of our very best. We could go on and on and on. I wrote about the time Alan’s boss died in Afghanistan, a few years ago. You might take a moment to read that one.

I recently made friends with a young Army widow with 2 elementary age school children. Her husband was a Ranger. She wasn’t expecting to live out life as a single mom either. Watching her is the most powerful reminder I’ve ever seen of just how great a sacrifice these men and their families have made. My own sacrifice pales to a mere thing that happened, rather than a sacrifice.

So today, we simply want to say thank you. We can’t express our gratitude enough. Thank you.

 

 

***This post is part of the Real Army Wives series, which runs every Monday morning, on Storiesofourboys.com.*****

 

 

The Real Army Wives #1: Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

I was supposed to get up at 7:30 to be at work at 8:30 that morning, but I overslept, such a typical college student I was…Instead, I woke up at 9:10am for my 10am Anatomy and Physiology class. I had put off my shower long enough that it was non-negotiable that morning.

You see, I was a junior at the University of Alabama, and I had the hard-earned privilege of a private room, thanks to my job as a resident assistant in the largest freshman dormitory on campus, Tutwiler Hall.

I had my radio on while I was getting ready. Before I got into the shower, the D.J. mentioned that an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center (north tower).

I paused in consternation. “What!? Weird.” That was puzzling, but I went ahead and took my shower.

The thing I will never forget is that moment when I got out of the shower, and I had my towel wrapped around me like a dress, and the man on the radio told us about the 2nd airplane hitting the other tower (south tower).

I immediately sat down.

“Whoa Whoa Whoa Whoa Whoa. Wait. What? What is happening?”

I listened intently. I don’t know why it never occurred to me to turn on my t.v. to watch coverage of this. It’s like I was stuck in 1930, listening to my personal stereo. I suppose I was too shocked to think anything at all besides, “What is happening?? Are we at war? What will happen next??”

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

My Fall 2001 Journal.

They didn’t have much more information to give us that morning. What could they say? Unsure what else to do, I went about my normal routine.  I put my clothes on in a daze and walked the half-mile to my anatomy class, hoping to hear some reassuring words or just more information, from my professor.

Instead, I entered what felt like the Twilight Zone. Seemingly, no one in my class had any idea that it had happened. Probably they didn’t. The professor certainly didn’t know. He taught class as usual, and I absorbed absolutely nothing that Dr. Graham said.

Have you ever felt like you knew the world was ending, and no one around you had a clue?

And you start to wonder if you misunderstood? That one hour, on 9/11/01, I felt that way, which is funny because I was normally the one who was notorious for not being up on current events. Watching the news wasn’t my thing. I’ve always been more of a bookworm than a t.v. person.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I arrived to my 11am class, Psychology Research Methods, and the professor marched in and canceled class. Finally! I didn’t imagine all of this! I’m not crazy. This really did happen. Now I was free to talk about it.

There was a resident on my floor, named Stacy, who was from New York City. I had a burning urgency in my chest to get ahold of her. I left her notes on her door, I looked for her, I called her, and I prayed and hoped her parents didn’t work at the Towers.

She found me that afternoon and reassured me that all of her folks were present and accounted for. It wasn’t easy back then. This was 2001. Most of us did not have cell phones, and the regular lines were jammed with so many people calling that I heard reports that it was hard to get a call through.

Stacy told me this story:

“My parents are good. Everyone is fine. Even my aunt! This is incredible because this is the 2nd time my aunt has been rescued from harm in the towers. My aunt works in the WTC, but she had gone across the street to get coffee this morning. She saw the crash happen from a window and went straight home from there. My aunt is a faithful prayer warrior, and she says God has protected her, and it was not her time to go yet. She was spared once before, during the 1993 WTC bombing. She happened to be at home sick with the flu that day.”

Then Stacy went home to New York City to be with her people for the rest of that week. It was just as well. She didn’t miss anything.

The world stood still that week. 

Airplanes were grounded. Ball games were canceled. Tests were postponed. Candles were lit everywhere. You couldn’t walk a mile on campus without running across candles or a group of praying people.

I’ll never forget holding hands in a giant circle on the University of Alabama quad. There must have been 100 or more of us, both teachers and students. There were Jews, Christians, and agnostics all standing there praying together, between classes. We sang hymns too, though I don’t recall which ones. It was an empowering thing to be a part of.

In my journal that day, I wrote that “What worries me is–what if more awaits for tomorrow–or next week.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

My actual journal entry. Yes, you can laugh at me about the Pentagon bomb, but it was early, and I didn’t have all the facts straight yet.

I was only 20 years old at the time. I was a full-time student with 2 part-time jobs. Alan was just a guy in a group of friends that I ate lunch with on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

After 9/11, I looked at Alan differently.

On Wednesdays, the ROTC cadets wore their uniforms all day long, so the day after 9/11, I saw Alan in his uniform at lunch. Alan was the top ranking cadet at Alabama. He was an impressive looking young soon-to-be-officer in the United States Army, standing at 6 foot 3, 225 pounds, in his size 15 combat boots. Alan has a strong jaw line and an air of authority and strength about him, but once you get to know him you realize that he is also exceedingly kind, reasonable, disciplined, and even funny.

I asked him how he felt about all this.

Alan was so business-like and serious in his response to my question.  He said matter-of-factly, “We are always ready to go to war and defend this country, to keep Americans safe and defend our freedom. Always ready.”

“You’re not worried? This will affect you directly. You aren’t afraid?”

“No. This is what we train for. I can’t wait to go.”

Maybe that was the day I started to like him, though I didn’t know it at the time. At the very least, it was the day I began to deeply respect him.

Tuesday, September 11, 2001

a Crimson White clipping I saved from those days after 9/11

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How September 11 would affect us

The already married military spouses knew they would soon be called upon to make humongous sacrifices.

As we watched all the sacrifices that the firemen, policemen, and rescue workers were making on 9/11 and the time following, we held our breath with them. We cried for them.

How could I know that someday my children and I would make sacrifices too, and that so many families would give all?

When you are enduring hardships for your country, like sending your husband overseas for months on end, over and over again, you need a good reason for that. 9/11 is always the reason I remind myself of.

When Daddy misses a whole year of birthdays….that’s for 9/11.

When I ate my 1 year anniversary wedding cake alone…..9/11.

When Christmas feels lonely……..9/11.

When I had to shepherd my son through the confusing and scary seizures and testing for epilepsy without my husband there to share the burden…….9/11.

And I remember what Alan said in 2001. It held true for all of these years, though no one ever wants war. War is a horrible thing, but on that day the terrorists attacked us first. They left us no choice.

“We are always ready to go to war and defend this country, to keep Americans safe and defend our freedom. Always ready,” and I am proud to be the flip-flops back home, supporting the boots on the ground overseas.

Every Monday: a new installment of The Real Army Wives blog series on storiesofourboys.com

This is just the beginning of my series of The Real Army Wives, stories from the home front of the War on Terrorism. 

The next installment: It was Time to Meet the Army

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Were you already a military spouse or have a compelling 9/11 story to tell? I’d love to share it on Storiesofourboys.com. Please send your submission to april@storiesofourboys.com. Feel free to just send me your article or just your idea to see if it fits in with what I have planned. Thank you!

 

 

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