I remember getting William’s first letter from boot camp in Paris Island. It was like a scene from The Waltons with everybody gathered around hanging on every word I read, waiting to get the letter and read it themselves.
We attended his graduation. He looked so handsome and professional. Walking to the parade deck, I saw my son! He spotted us out of the corner of his eye and then looked straight ahead. I know he saw us… he knew we were there. We were a military family now!…then came 9/11.
Before William left for Kuwait, he called me. We talked about anything we could think of for about 90 minutes-then we had to get off. It was one of the hardest things I had to do…get off the phone. I just wanted to hug him and could not. He was over 2000 miles away. I just wanted to touch him, be inside his head, hear his thoughts and feelings. I wanted to calm any fears he had and couldn’t. I wanted to protect him…and couldn’t. All he and I had was the comfort from our God, asking for His protection.
I finally got the dreaded letter, “Mom, I’m on my way to Iraq. You won’t be hearing much from me for awhile.” My heart just sank and I went numb.
I remember watching the invasion of Iraq on March 22, 2003, and listening to President Bush announce the beginning of the war. I sobbed.
I watched CNN, MSNBC, any channel that ran 24 hour coverage on the war…always looking for my son, William. Such an array of images-soldiers baking their 21st birthday cake on top of a humvee, Iraqi sheep farmers, Marines getting baptized, Marines smelling the perfumed letters of loved ones, soldiers playing football during rare downtime, Iraqi children, bombings… so I decided to scrapbook the war! I scrapbooked everything-including the deaths of the soldiers and Marines.
I forged friendships with several other Marine Moms. We shared deep feelings, confidences, and became prayer warriors together, despite the fact that we had been but strangers before the war!
At Christmas I decorated a huge pine tree in my yard with red, white and blue lights. My husband, Steve, made a ribbon symbol out of chicken wire. We strung yellow lights on it and hung it on the tree. Those lights burned 24 hours a day till my son came home!
I remember finally getting a ten minute phone call at 4:30 AM in early May. William sounded great! I asked him if he was in Baghdad when they tore down the statue of Saddam Hussein. He said, “Yes, I was right up in front, Mom. I think I might be part of history.” I replied, “Yes, William, you are!”
What a glorious sight-five ships docked at sea waiting to shuttle Marines home to Camp Pendleton! William was on the USS Cleveland. After waiting on the beach for 3 ? hours, we watched as the Marines finally arrived on the parade deck. We waited and waited, watched Marines march in and have little family reunions with their spouses, kids and parents. It was amazing. Just like another Walton moment.
Finally, at about 11 am the largest platoon came marching in. We had a huge banner “WELCOME HOME LCP RANKIN”. My husband was holding it high as the platoon marched in. We didn’t want him to miss us and he didn’t. As soon as the platoon got to the parade deck I saw him 3 deep in a row of Marines and he saw me. He knew we were there and he cracked a little smile. Our presence was a surprise, but, once again, I know he saw us. He knew we were there. My baby boy, now a man—a Marine, was safe.