To many in America they are just names that you hear in a quick report on the nightly news. With every new name you may feel a brief sense of sadness but the next day you wake up and your day is the same. Yet somewhere in a corner of this country there are people who are forever changed. The toll that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan has taken on families all over the globe is enormous. For those close to the military, you know that it happens. You know that there are people who will not survive, but somehow you think that you will be exempt from such a tragedy. You fear it, but you make yourself believe that it cannot happen to you. I am a planner. I thought incessantly about all the “what ifs” and I made my husband talk about them. Essentially we were prepared in case the worst happened. I knew that he preferred as little fuss as possible, which in the military no fuss does not exist, and I knew that he wanted me to do what I felt was best beyond that. As far as our three children were concerned, I knew exactly what I was supposed to do initially and long-term. Beyond those parameters I was lost. I am lost.
My husband, Sgt. Michael Currie Roy, USMC, was a month shy of his twenty-sixth birthday when he was killed in action on Afghanistan soil. To the Department of Defense, most of America, and the world, he is a statistic brought on by terrorism, but to me he was so much more. There was Michael the Marine…At seventeen Michael knew that he would be a Marine. If you asked him he would tell you he was a Marine because of the uniform, but I knew it was more about the job. He was a grunt and he could not imagine being anything else. He was also a sniper, which he loved and was proud of. Michael, or Roy as he was most commonly known, was the guy that always smiled no matter what the situation was. He always helped and he always went above and beyond. Contrary to prior reports he did not bargain with the Marine Corp to go on his last deployment so that he would not have to leave our family again. In fact, he passed up the opportunity to have a non-deployable job because he believed in what he had been doing in Iraq and what was left to do in Afghanistan. Inevitably he would have been deployed again sooner than we were ready for. He also did not join the Marine Corp because of the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001; it was simply already in his plans. In his death Michael earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star with a Combat “V” but His decorations include a Navy Achievement Medal, a Combat Action Ribbon, a Navy Unit Commendation, three Navy Meritorious Unit Commendations, two Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, a Humanitarian Service Medal, four Sea Service Deployment Ribbons, and a NATO Medal-ISAF Afghanistan. To a grieving widow, especially when accepting awards in honor of your husband, they can be a slap in the face. The last two awards Michael received is a painful reminder that he is no longer here. On paper and on a uniform it certainly looks impressive. However, to me Michael was so much more than the Marine.
Michael was first and foremost a husband and a father. I am sure that it has been said a million times about a million different people, but he was the best man that I will ever know. He was my best friend, the love of my life, and as cliché as it sounds, my soul mate. To our five year old and our two year old he could do no wrong. To them he was a hero because he would build huge block towers every night when he got home from work and every Saturday he would make banana chocolate chip pancakes. To our youngest, who was two months old at the time of his death, he was a soft voice that he will soon forget. He was also a son, brother, nephew, and cousin that was truly adored by family members. His loss means that the man that we know and love is forever frozen in time. He got what most people wish for, to be forever twenty-five. I have heard countless times that Michael left this world satisfied and that he died for something great, our freedom. People also have said that I must remember he was happy and had what he came into this world for. I murmur “thank you” and I smile and nod like I am supposed to but inside my head I am screaming about all the things that people are forgetting or did not know Michael wanted to do. He will never walk his daughter down the aisle or dance with her at her wedding. He will never get to teach our sons how to throw a ball or watch them on the sports field. He will never get to learn to fly a helicopter or build the biggest and best gun range in the world. We will not get our secluded piece of land, with the house built just the way we wanted it and the matching rocking chairs on the front porch when we are eighty that he always talked about. His life is a life unfinished.
Like other family members left behind I will never forget the moment that all of my fears were justified. As with each and every mission that my husband went on I spoke with him before he left. I will never forget the last conversation that we had because in four years this was the only mission that he ever revealed any concern to me. He was always confident and energized before leaving the wire in Iraq and Afghanistan. But this time he blatantly told me it did not feel right. When Michael and I hung up the phone on the 5th he said goodbye differently than he ever had before and when I set the phone down I began to cry. He tried to call again on the 6th and eventually we said our last words through the instant messenger. I knew that the promise that he would call on July 9th was empty. I hoped for the next day and a half that it was a promise Michael could keep but I prepared for the worst. I fell asleep after midnight on the morning of the 8th. I had been restless the entire day…so restless that I built two shelves and a jumper for our newborn son. I had barely been sleeping one hour when I woke up and I felt like my soul had been emptied out. I lay in bed the rest of the night waiting for my children to wake so that I could start my day. I got up earlier than usual that morning and I opened my blinds so that I could see out to the street. I sat in front of the window hoping that I would get a call and knowing that it would never come. If I remember correctly it was just after 10 am when a saw a car come into the neighborhood and leave and then come back again. The car parked behind the cover of a tree, but when I saw three uniformed men step out my heart sunk. I said out loud, “No, no, no!” I hoped they would walk across the street but they did not. When they started the slow walk up my driveway I ran around my living room in a panic trying to calm myself down enough to open the door before anyone could touch the doorbell. I did not want my children to come to the door as they often do when people ring the bell. When I opened the door the sorrow on the faces of the men in front of me washed over me and I begged them to tell me that my husband was hurt and he would be coming home. Out of pure formality they delivered their news. The news I had known all night. In that instant I knew the fear I felt this deployment was justified and the emptiness that I had not been able to shake all night was real and not paranoia. In the days to come the realization that my precious husband would never enter my house in the same form again slowly hit me in the face.
The heartbreaking part about this story is not simply the fact that I am a widow before my time and that my children lost their Daddy before their time, or that Michael’s life was cut short. What is heartbreaking is that my story is not unique. Michael Roy, Lucas Bregg, Roger Hager, John Hayes, Gregory Missman, Darren Tate. These are the names of the military men that died on July 8th, 2009. They are not just names on a list of casualties or statistics for our history books. They are men that were heroes in their own right. Not just because they died for our freedom, but because of who they were to someone else. Each of these men has a story and there are thousands more stories that go with the names of other men and women who are so easily and commonly dismissed after the news briefing is over.
Let this be a reminder also that when the media reports are gone and the funeral and memorial services are over there are still families and friends feeling the pain. A pain that no matter how much you move on will never go away.
Written by Amy Roy