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The Day My Husband's Helicopter Was Shot Down
February 7, 2007 was the worst day of my life. My husband was a United States Navy corpsman (later he switched to Marine) who worked on a helicopter that medically evacuated troops bringing the wounded soldiers, sailors, and Marines' to tent hospitals in Iraq. This story is about the day his helicopter crashed.
I met my husband at the base I was stationed at in my first few years in the Marine Corps. When I was deployed to Iraq, I was injured and had to have multiple surgeries. I spent nearly two months in the ICU, where Paul was working. In the middle of the night towards the end of my stay in the hospital, I was looking underneath my hospital bed for my cell phone. He came in and told me to get up and go back in the bed because I would pop all the stitches in my stomach. He told me to give him my number, and he would call it. He did, and he found my phone and he returned it. I complied giving my phone number cause I thought I was busted, and thought he might tell my command that this Marine wasn't following directions. I was not allowed to have any food, and I was about to call a fellow Marine to sneak me some food. It would be a blood bath (my blood that is) if a sailor called a Marine's command to say one of their Marines was disobeying orders. So when I saw him, I become very compliant.
Surprisingly, a few days after I was out of the hospital, he called me and told me I should go to the beach with him. That sly fox, but I thought he was very cute and sweet. We married six weeks later, and three months after that, we were pregnant. Even though my command wasn't thrilled that a Marine was marrying a sailor, but I didn't care. He left for Iraq when our daughter was 8-months old. I actually wasn't allowed to tell anyone how we met for like 5-years, because he would go to corpsman jail for dating a patient; but then he said the jig was up, we were married with a kid, I could tell. Everyone in his and my command new about it for years. It wasn't that big a deal, I saw him a few times in the hospital, it was not like he was my command's corpsman.
Paul was only in Iraq for 11 days when I was at the gym when I saw a CNN report that Paul's helicopter crashed. My heart nearly stopped, and I almost fell on my face on the treadmill. It did not give the names of the people on board. I had spoken to him earlier in the day and knew he was on call. He was involved with picking up wounded who were ill or dead from a chlorine bomb attack. He had breathed in too much of the chlorine, and I knew he had been feeling ill.
I ran and picked up our daughter in tears, and came back to our house on base. My best friend and neighbor came over and brought some of our friends who had also heard. One of the girls played with my daughter inside of the house. I was in shock sitting on the porch waiting for his command to come with a chaplain I had never met, and tell me my husband was dead, and I was a widow. They never came.
I called the Officer of the Day (OOD) for his command and demanded to know what happened. Where were they? In my mind, I was already worrying about where would we go? Where would I bury him? How could our daughter go on to have a healthy childhood? Where the heck was his command? I was infuriated.
There is a system in place that is called "Links." Links Is kind of like a phone tree, where military spouses can call it if they are having a problem, from car trouble, babysitting problems, medical issues, or just the stress of having your husband deployed. They provide a lot of useful workshops for military spouses, and I do recommend it. However, I am a Marine and have been deployed previously, so I had never called Links before; I just had no need. Links did not have any new information. I called the Officer of the Day again and wanted to know what happened? He told me to stay home and wait for his command and the chaplain to notify me officially with his death.
I watched CNN because his command did not know anything at that point. I saw on TV that the Iraqi insurgents were pillaging the bodies. I called the bank and cancelled all credit cards in his name. I was running on auto-pilot. I also kept checking the website, www.icasualties.org. This site tells what unit and branch they are before any other media outlet gives details.
Over 24 hours later, I got a call from a very confused banker in Iraq. She told me she had my husband in front of her, and he wanted to know why his credit cards were cancelled. In Iraq, after a death has occurred, the bases turn their computers and all phones off until all of the deceased's next-of-kin can be notified. This way, no accidental slips of names of the dead are mentioned, and the family finds out from a friend, or even worst, the media. So, Paul could not call me to tell me he was okay.
The banking official, however, had a satellite phone that did not go through the base's communication system, for privacy protection reasons. The banker put Paul on the phone. He was alive! My husband was alive! Oh my God. However, it was not just good news. Paul had felt sick before the medivac call came in. He told me our best friend was dead. He was the corpsman who helped deliver our daughter a few months earlier. He took Paul's spot because my husband became ill from the chlorine bomb earlier in the day, and now he was dead.
I went to the petty officers’ funeral. The widow had just given birth to our friend's child less than a week before. Those men and women on the helicopter, as well as my husband and his unit, had only been in Iraq for 11 days. The poor widow had her husband miss the birth of their child by just three days, and then a week later he was dead.
I cried louder than the widow, who was in no doubt shock. I went outside the church to compose myself. I have struggled with my feeling on this. I had felt so guilty that my husband made it, but so sad that a good family man died. One of the reasons I left the funeral early was, so I didn't have to run into Paul's command when they dismissed us, because while I was in the church I kept thinking "Thank you, God, it wasn't Paul." I could not in my right mind hug the widow and believe that.
Every Veteran's and Memorial Day we go to the Arlington National Cemetery. We always bring the same gifts; a flower and a teddy bear from our daughter. Many people might think Arlington is not a place for kids, but we respectfully disagree. We want out daughter to know what Mommy and Daddy and all the other service members have sacrificed so we can live in the best nation in the world.