I’ll Never Forget
by Katie Foley
I’ll never forget the haze of coming from a deep sleep and hearing the anguish in her voice The sound may fade over time, and I’ll admit that there are entire stretches of days that I don’t think of that voice at all. But I will never forget it.
I’ll never forget standing on the parade deck with hundreds of other wives, families, loved ones, all of them hugging a Marine, shaking his hand, some laughing at jokes. I’ll never forget watching those buses disappear, the sound of the motorcycles leading them away, roaring through the hills of Camp Pendleton. I’ll never forget how green the hills looked that morning, just after sunrise, the sky still somewhat grey. They were almost emerald, with snakes of fog crawling around the edges and down the fronts. The fog looked almost like cold fingers reaching around the very peaks. I’ll never forget the sound of her anguish filled-sobs behind me.
I’ll never forget turning to her, a young mother barely 19 years old named Katie. Her husband was James, one of my husband’s Marines, and I stood still as I watched her shoulders shaking. I’ll never forget thinking—no— judging the sobs that day of a young, love-struck teen being dramatic about the departure of her husband. I don’t know why I judged. Our husbands were about to be the first Marines to battle the Taliban in Sangin, Afghanistan.
As a Marine myself and what some would call “a veteran wife” (or one who’d been through multiple deployments to various countries), I knew the battles that were about to ensue would be bloody, and there would be a heart-wrenching pain for these women, the likes of which they’d never known. I knew that there was a chance that my husband might not return to me, and I knew there was a chance hers wouldn’t either. So I don’t know why I judged her, but I’ll never forget that I judged just before I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and said, “He’ll be back. I promise.”
I’ll never forget the next nearly two months, daily phone calls from her, among several dozen other women, listening to their tears, and always saying, “It’ll be okay. He’ll be back.” I’ll never forget the Marine Corps Birthday, November 10th 2010, when I was pulled from a sleep so deep and so consumed with nightmares that I wasn’t completely aware of what was going on or what was causing the pain I could hear in Katie’s voice. The words that I will never forget finally registered.
“Oh my God, he’s gone, he’s gone,” she kept saying. “Oh my God, he’s gone.”
I remember asking her to put her sister on the line; her ten-year-old sister who should never have had to walk into the front room of her home and see men, larger than life, filling up her doorway, delivering news that was not just bad, it was terrifying and devastating and crushing, delivering a deadly blow to her big sister- her hero. I remember telling her that when she put Katie back on the phone, she was to take her cell phone and call her mother home from work immediately. I remember telling her not to allow the men at the door to leave until her mother arrived, and the fear in her voice as she accepted her suddenly very grown up responsibility—one that even adults have buckled under.
I remember hanging up the phone and pulling myself to my coffee maker in the kitchen. Bowing over my counter, I remember being stricken with not just grief for Katie, but with something surprising and dark and terrifying to me: guilt. I didn’t feel guilty that Mike was still alive somewhere, I felt guilty that I had promised her—PROMISED HER—that her husband would come home.
I will never forget any of these things because I still find myself occasionally being struck down with numbing guilt over that.
I remember I called my mother. No stranger to devastation, Mom lost my father only one year and four days earlier. When she picked up the phone, I couldn’t hold it back any more. I began choking on my own guilt as I admitted, “James is gone, and I promised his wife he would come home.”
I think I expected my mom to reprimand me. “ How could you possibly promise that?” Instead, her calm, almost surreal voice crept into my heart with the words, “We promise these things, Katie, because we have to. You knew it was a possibility, so did she. You promised because you had to. And he would have died anyway regardless of whether you’d given her the peace she’s had the last two months.”
I hold dearly to these words when the guilt casts its terrifying blankets over me. I will never promise the return of another husband, but I will continue to offer encouragement to young Katie. Just a few days ago, another young woman spoke to me, tears rolling down her face, and confided, “What if I lose him?”
I lowered my head and said with complete confidence, “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord…plans to give you a hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
Having been in the Marine Corps herself, Katie Foley is a Marine wife and mother of three who’s just answered God’s call on her life to go into Women’s Ministry. Katie currently resides aboard Camp Pendleton where she teaches 1st through 3rd grade at her church, spends way too much time reading Karen Kingsbury novels, and dreams of someday being an author- when she’s retired- and probably too old to type.