I was a young Marine Corps officer’s wife and a few short weeks after learning we were expecting our first child, my husband picked me up from the school where I was substitute teaching with news that shattered our excitement. He had just learned he had received orders to deploy to Vietnam.
How could this be?
He had only returned two months ago from being half a world away for five months on another deployment. Everything in me tumbled and jumbled with thoughts and emotions too difficult to comprehend or express.
Within a few days, our one bedroom duplex was packed and moved back home from the base in North Carolina. First stop for my husband would be Camp Pendleton, CA. With no certainty of how long he would be there before being shipped overseas, we decided I would travel with him to CA to stay with him as long as I could.
It became clear within a few days that there would be no housing for me there, so I prepared for the flight back home to the Midwest. He could not be released from duty to drive me to the airport in San Diego, so it fell to me to drive him to the base and say goodbye and drive away.
I recall it as if it were yesterday, driving down the winding road, watching him for as long as I could see him in the rearview mirror, trying to memorize every detail of him.
He was in California a month before being deployed and we used so many minutes talking long distance on the phone that the phone company called my parents where I was staying to ask if we wanted to pay the bill of $200 in installments. (Yes, that was before cell phones, iPad, Skype, Face Time, etc.)
We were apart for fourteen months, short by WW II standards, but longer than I thought I could endure. There were daily letters back and forth and later my husband bought two little reel-to-reel tape recorders to send recorded messages back and forth. (Yes, it was just before cassette tapes also!)
It was a different kind of war, the first one that showed battlefront footage on the evening news and the first one that so bitterly divided our country over our involvement. Both things were difficult for me and the other family members back home.
Anxiety was easy to feel and hard to quell.
In the middle of his deployment, our son was born. We would not have planned a pregnancy for this time of separation, but in it we discovered one of the first evidences of grace and blessing in the midst of sacrifice.
The pregnancy and our son’s birth gave us both something positive to anticipate and focus on beyond the circumstances we were living out each day. I came to see how it steadied my focus away from the headlines about the realities and dangers my husband faced.
A second gift was developing greater skill in communication as day after day we filled pages of letters with thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams. Each line on the page was precious. Each of us was aware any one of them might be the last we would hear each other express so we were deliberate in choices of words to convey all our hearts held for one another.
My husband’s return home at 6AM on an Easter Sunday morning could not have seemed more poignant or appropriate. He was thinner and more deeply tanned than I had ever seen him and he was about to meet our eight-month-old son for the very first time.
There were many sacrifices during that time, but each one left a gift that has served us well in our marriage and life.
What were some of those gifts?
- Communication matters and should be handled with love, care, sensitivity, and respect
- Be sure to tell someone how precious they are to you and what you appreciate about them when you see them because you cannot be sure if you will have that opportunity again
- Prioritize relationship with those you love and never take time with them for granted. Time with them is not guaranteed.
- Trusting the Lord is not for the faint of heart and requires practice
When I consider some of the gifts of sacrifice this Veterans Day, I am reminded of how the disciples must have felt with that short precious three years they walked with Jesus. I think they learned these lessons as well from the One who sacrificed everything for them, for us.