Sunday, May 25, 2014

Remembering Our Friend On Memorial Day


  Per tradition, every time we move to a new city, or base, we begin our hunt for the "perfect" (for our family) Catholic church. We attended Mass at the chapel on Fort Benning our first weekend here, but the contemporary Mass just wasn't for us. Fortunately, we found a thriving Catholic community-with a more traditional service that we prefer-not too far from base, and we've been attending mass there for a few months. There was a visiting priest today, and after a brief introduction he told us a (apparently, old) joke. A young altar server was looking at several names on a plaque in the church before Mass, and he asked the priest who they were. 

Priest: "Those are the names of members of our parish who died in the service." 
Altar server: "Oh. Father, was it the 8:00 or the 10:30 service?" 

  Obviously, there were quite a few laughs from the congregation, and the priest went on to give a heartfelt message of thanks to our veterans. I teared up, not only because I was sitting beside my husband, who is a five-time veteran himself, but because I couldn't stop thinking about our friend Jimmy, who was killed almost four years ago in Afghanistan. A month before he was due to return home to his family. We met Jimmy, his wife Mandy, and their daughter Trinity on Christmas Day in 2008 (well, I did. Will had already been introduced to Jimmy before at work). Like Will, Jimmy was a dog handler in the Army, and their family received orders to Germany near the end of December. If I remember correctly, they arrived in Germany right before Christmas, and I knew they didn't have any of their household goods yet. We invited them over for Christmas dinner, and we had a wonderful evening. I had heard from Will and a few of our other friends in the kennels that Jimmy was the kind of guy who would brighten up your day with his smile, his fantastic attitude, and his profound Christian faith. It was true; I liked Jimmy and his family instantly, and I always looked forward to seeing them at Army functions and get-togethers. 

  A few months before we left Germany, I hosted an early Thanksgiving dinner for all the soldiers in the kennels and their families. Not going to lie, it was a pretty busy night at our house; at one point, I counted 25 people in our living room and kitchen. It was so worth it, though, to have a relaxing evening with food, wine, and great conversations with our friends. Will and I were preparing to move back to the States, and Jimmy was preparing to deploy to Afghanistan. He and Mandy had recently had another baby, a little boy, and I couldn't imagine how hard it would be for Jimmy to say goodbye to his family. He and I got a chance to talk a little bit that night, and I told him Will and I would be praying for his safe return. That was the last time we saw him. Will and I moved to Boston that May, and we found out at the end of August Jimmy was killed when he and his dog were on a mission in Afghanistan. We were devastated, and I couldn't stop crying every time I thought of Mandy and her children. Will and I made plans to attend Jimmy's funeral in Missouri, and I spoke briefly to Mandy online one night. I'll never forget what she told me..."I couldn't get through this if it weren't for the Lord." Mandy's strength, her fortitude during what was surely the most difficult time of her life was amazing to me. She lost her husband, her best friend, the father of her children, yet she still found comfort and solace in God's love. When I saw Mandy at Jimmy's wake, I was six months pregnant with Tony. I had tears in my eyes as I walked up to her, and before I could even say anything she smiled at me and my (already gigantic) belly, and asked if it was okay if she touched my bump. Of course I said yes, and I hugged her and asked if there was something, anything we could do. I can't ever remember feeling so helpless. I wanted so badly to make everything right for Mandy and her children, even though I knew nothing would ever be the same for them again. 

  Since that day four years ago, Mandy has gone on to give her sweet children a happy, loving home. She has once again found love herself, and is engaged. I would like to ask everyone who reads this to remember Jimmy, Mandy, and her children in their prayers this Memorial Day weekend. Jimmy made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our freedom, and it is our duty to make sure he is never forgotten. Rest in peace, friend, and thank you for touching our lives. 
Jimmy and his working dog, Ddaphne. Photo by Deanna Holley.

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