It was spring of my Senior year of college, just weeks away from graduation. The cherry trees were blossoming, the sun was shining, and students were taking advantage of the lovely weather to get outside and study or play Frisbee on the campus’s green lawns. I had taken my laptop outside to soak up some sun while working on one of my final papers. When I came back to my dorm room, there was a Post-it note on my desk, written by my roommate. Apparently I had missed a phone call. It said, “Your boyfriend called. He was wounded. He’ll try to call back.”
My heart stopped. I drew in a sharp breath, and burst into tears.This military girlfriend got a Post-It note message that her boyfriend had been wounded in Iraq. #milspouse #PurpleHeart Click To Tweet
My boyfriend was a Marine deployed to Iraq. I knew that his unit was at the front lines, getting way too much action. ‘Wounded’ could mean anything. I should have been reassured by the fact that he could use a phone, but instead my mind ran in a million directions. How badly was he hurt? What happened? Where was he? And why hadn’t I bought myself a cell phone yet?
The roommate was gone, and there was no indication when my boyfriend had called, or when he would call again. Of course I had no way to reach him. I paced back and forth in my tiny dorm room, tears streaming down my face as I prayed to hear from him. I hoped for good news, but feared the worst.
After what felt like forever, the phone rang. I jumped to answer. It was him. “I’m ok,” he said, “I don’t want you to worry, but… I got blown up.”
Those were probably not the most reassuring words he could have chosen. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN?” I shouted in tears. He explained that an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) had been planted in a pile of rubble on a rooftop. He happened to be standing on the pile when the IED exploded, and a large piece of shrapnel went straight through his foot. He now had a hole all the way through his foot.
My mind was filled with a rush of emotions and questions. In a way, I was relieved: it was just a foot. He hadn’t lost a leg or his face. It could be much worse. But my heart was racing, and it was hard to think. I must have been breathing, because I pelted him with questions.
Could he walk? (He was on crutches, but expected to recover).
Would he need surgery? (Yes, probably).
I wanted to know where he was (at a base in Germany).
And I wanted to know if I could see him. (No, because the stay in Germany was temporary. But once he was transferred to a stateside hospital, I should be able to visit.)
He sounded surprisingly upbeat for someone with a hole in his foot. Probably because he was still getting pain medication through an IV.
All too quickly, the phone call came to an end. He had not been the only Marine med-evac’d to Germany that day, and others needed to call their families, too. I told him how grateful I was to hear from him, and that I would plan to visit him in the stateside hospital in a few days.
As I hung up the phone, I felt mostly relieved. He was alive. We would survive this. The news could have been worse, much worse. Yes, he was on crutches and would end up with a permanent scar, but he was coming home alive. In one piece. Others were not so lucky.
When a phone call isn’t the worst thing that can happen
I later learned that the same day he was injured, there was a grenade explosion in another part of the same city he had been patrolling. Another Marine from his unit threw himself on the grenade. His heroic action saved the lives of his team, but he suffered deadly injuries. This was a Marine that ended up on the same medical helicopter, and was treated at the same hospital as my boyfriend. But mine came home alive, and the other Marine did not.
After more than 15 years of war, the deployment cycle has repeated. Never again have I received such a terrifying phone call. My Marine has always come home alive. But that has not been true for others around him. Some have received worse phone calls, or the dreaded visit from uniformed military members. We have lost friends, roommates, people who stood up at our wedding. The man who smacked me on the butt with a sword on my wedding day, saying “Welcome to the Marine Corps, ma’am!” is no longer living. I have friends who became widows before age 25.
I try to honor their memories, to celebrate the brave young service members who gave all so that our country could continue. Not just those who died in this war, but in every war America has fought, for over 200 years. Millions of men and women have volunteered to join the military and fight our nation’s battles. Some of them have given the ultimate sacrifice. That is who we honor on Memorial Day.Millions have joined the military, and some have given the ultimate sacrifice. That is who we honor on Memorial Day. Click To Tweet
We can appreciate their sacrifice and be thankful for their service by enjoying the freedoms that we have today. It is a day to mourn, but also a day to celebrate. I feel sorrow for the friends we have lost, and the widows who have to live through this every day. But I celebrate the life they all allowed us to live. I celebrate one more day, one more year, with my husband. I hope and pray that he will always come home. But if he does not, I know he will be remembered and celebrated every day, especially on Memorial Day.
My Deployment Masterclass includes interviews with two Gold Star spouses. They don’t focus on the pain of injury. Instead, they discuss the hope, healing, and support that is available to those going through tragedy. If you are facing an upcoming deployment and worried about the dangers of combat, join my Deployment Support group and mailing list. No one should receive news like this alone! As military girlfriends, boyfriends, or spouses, “we are all in this together!”