On July 1, 2012, a C-130 Hercules aircraft crashed while fighting wildfires, killing four of the six crewmembers. I have not been able to get it out of my mind – the pain and anguish of the families – the “too close to home” of it all.
When my husband is deployed my radar is a little more sensitive. I listen more closely to the casualty reports. My heart stops at the words “aircraft crash”. Due to the nature of the Herk’s mission, I generally do not worry about my husband not flying home, but it is a war, and they are in combat territory, so it is a in-the-back-of-my-mind concern. However, I know they have trained well, the aircraft are well-maintained, and the crewmembers are focused on the mission.
At home? It never crosses my mind that he won’t come home after every flight. TDYs come and go, and “I’ll be home in a few days” always happens. Always. Always. Always. I have never had my world stop when I hear “A C-130 has crashed”. I have never had to watch the reports on facebook, waiting for my phone to ring – to hear him say “I’m okay”. I’ve never had to see spouse after spouse announce that they’ve heard from their husband. I’ve never had to watch the speculation. I’ve never had to decide whether or not to open the door when the commander and chaplain knock. I’ve never had to try not to scream. I’ve never had to tell my kids the impossible has happened. I’ve never had to try to see my way through the fog just long enough to make it to the next day. I have never, never hated the American Flag.
I am not sure why this incident is affecting me so, but I keep imagining the last seconds in the cockpit, when the crew probably knew they were not going to make it. I think about the families at home carrying on their daily activities, when suddenly, their world stopped. How would I react? I think of all the things I’d want to say to my husband in his last seconds. All of the things I would regret not saying if, one day, he didn’t come home.
My Dear Major Williams,
Well, it seems that your ego won’t be getting you out of this one, (which sucks, because you’d think it had been inflated enough over the years) and it looks like I’ll be getting “the flag” that you promised I would never get. Deployments, missed birthdays, missed holidays, missed anniversaries. Missed soccer games, missed recitals, missed dinners. All of those missed days and hours you gave up for the mission. Sometimes it’s difficult not to wonder if it’s worth it, but they were just days and hours. You were there for the moments, and the moments are what make us a family.
Nine years ago you reminded me how to laugh. You held my hand as I rediscovered myself, and I am me because of you. Two years later, our wedding was spectacular! My favorite part was the 20 minutes we held hands while we walked in the drizzling rain from the church to our home – just you and me (and my sister and the photographer). I don’t think either of us could have guessed at the short periods of poignant heartache and tears that the next seven years would bring, but I also don’t think we realized the overwhelming happiness and joy we would experience over those same years. I cherish the time we spent in Little Rock while you were upgrading – the two of us in that little apartment. Every time I see an IHOP I remember our 4am-after-a-late-SIM visits. I was waddling with Abigail when we rolled back into Ohio for a final two months before our first PCS. I remember so vividly the minute she was born. That was the first time I had ever seen you so vulnerable. You were in awe of her. You held her so gently, looked at each of her toes and each of her fingers. You stayed by her side the entire time. Watching you become a dad was incredible! You were so amazed at everything she did. I would think, “all babies do that”; but it was new to you and your enthusiasm rubbed off. Then, a year and a half later, Mr. Man came into the world – your hands were the first he ever felt! How amazing is that?!? Born into his father’s hands. For two minutes we were the only people in the entire world who knew that “it was a boy”! (I still think that delivery should have been free.) I love that as the babies grow you have always been patient and you’ve followed through. While I would clean their rooms for them, you will sit firmly on the floor until they’ve accomplished the goal. That is one of your best qualities.
I love that you know what kind of mood I’m in when you walk in. I love that you can tell when it’s going to be a long talk, and you put on tea. I love that you can calm me down with a look. I love that you know Hershey’s Kisses solve all problems. I love that when you wrap me in your arms I know everything will be okay. I love that you can tell from across a crowded room that my social anxiety is kicking in. I love that you put the kids in bed. I love that you mow the lawn. I love that you take out the trash. I love that you take care of the cars. I love that you take care of the insurance. I love that you take care of me.
Now you won’t be able to do any of those things. All of those things will be replaced by a flag. They will hand me a flag. What will I do with it? Will I hide it? Will I frame it? Will I cling to it for life? I don’t know. How long will I leave your voice mails on my phone? How long will I leave your shows on the DVR? How long will it be before I can force myself to throw away your razor? I don’t know.
I am so sorry that I didn’t kiss you one more time as you walked out the door. Sorry I was too busy to respond to that last text (that text I will never delete). It would have taken just moments. Moments. We’ve had nine years of moments. Some bad, most good. All of them ours. The moments are what make us, and we are strong. I love you so much, and sharing this life with you has been worth all of the sacrifice.
P.S. I’m selling your car.
I fully expect my husband to retire from the Air Force in many, many years. This incident has not made me paranoid or afraid. It has made me stop, and think, and appreciate. I don’t tell him often enough that he is my hero; that I can’t imagine my life without him.
I had to add some humor to my letter because nobody wants to read a concentrated gut-punch of pain. However, there are four families who are living this in its most raw form. Keep them in your prayers. If you know them hug them. Hold them. Listen to them. Thank them, for they have paid a price the rest of us can’t even imagine. Their heroes died for us.