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Lessons from Deployment: Freedom Becomes Personal

When my brother left for SOI training, he flew back the afternoon before he had to report. As he was getting ready to leave, my mom reminded him to be careful in the airport because she had read that there were people who liked to prey on new Marines coming to the area for training. I laugh when I think about it now – he was a Marine and we were worried about him making it through the airport… Anyways, you can imagine the thoughts that went through my mom’s head when Kyle called later that evening. “Don’t worry” he told her, “I met this guy at the airport and he took me to his sister and brother-in-law’s house. He’s a Marine and so is his brother-in-law. Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

 

When I saw an email from my brother sitting in my inbox, I felt a moment of relief and excitement. He was okay AND he took the time to email me! We were knee deep in his first deployment and things had been rough over the past few weeks. Then I opened the email…

 

“Hey, my buddy is in Bethesda something or another hospital. My other friend, not going to any hospital. He died in Germany.”

 

On October 27, 2010, surrounded by his family,Lance Corporal Terry "TJ" Honeycutt died in Germany as the result of wounds sustained in an IED explosion. He was 19. He was a Marine. He was my brother’s friend.

 

On a slightly overcast, crisp fall morning in November, I sat in the back of car. In the driver’s seat was Tina, my friend from chat who I’d just met in person that morning. Next to her, in full dress blues and a back brace, her son Darnell. Thoughts were racing through my head…

 

I will be strong.

 

I will hold it together.

 

I love you, Kyle.

 

This could’ve been us.

 

This could be us.

 

That’s when we saw them. The first few people standing next to the road holding small American flags. Suddenly, there were more. In a sea of red, white, and blue, a huge crowd of people, all wearing black t-shirts emblazoned on the front in simple white print, “Thank you, TJ.”

 

As I sat in through the service and gazed at the flag-draped coffin, as I listened to those who knew Terry personally share their stories, as I watched a home movie of Terry singing and playing the guitar, as I cried when his mom said “Good-bye,” my heart ached for his family. I was so thankful that my brother was okay, but so very heart broken that this family had had part of themselves ripped away. Everything that I thought was so stressful in my life paled in comparison to this moment.

 

After the service, we exited the church, Tina pushing Darnell’s wheelchair, me following behind, wanting so badly to say “Thank you” to Marines that lined the doorway, but not knowing if I could get the words out without falling apart. I noticed a Marine in a wheelchair who I thought must be Kyle’s friend who had been injured a couple of weeks before Terry was hit. He had been walking in front of Kyle when an IED went off and he had been recovering at Bethesda. I wanted to talk to him but what should I say? I didn’t know and I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so I simply caught his eye, gave a nod, and took my place in the back of Tina’s car for the drive to the cemetery.

 

Terry’s funeral was in Maryland, the cemetery in Virginia. As we returned through the sea of supporters and flags and t-shirts, the tears again began to flow. I did the only thing I knew to do to say “Thank you” to those who took the time to honor this hero. I put my hand over my heart. I didn’t even try to stop the tears anymore, I just sat there, staring out the window, with my hand over my heart, for what would be an incredible ride.

 

All along the road, cars were stopped and people stood to show their appreciation and support. Minivans with moms and children, police cars and ambulances, and semi-trucks stopped. One town had two fire trucks, their ladders raised high above the road, an enormous flag hanging from the bucket. People with large flags, small flags, and no flags stood, some at attention with a crisp salute, some with their hands over their hearts, others in deep reflection.  

 

For thirty-five miles, from La Plata, Maryland, to Arlington National Cemetery, along some of the busiest roads in the country, everything and everyone stopped to honor a hero. As we lined up at the gates of Arlington, we passed the tourists walking in. For some, the significance of the procession was immediate. For others, you could see the meaning dawn on them. I remember one mother, who when she realized what we were there for, bent down and whispered in her children’s ear. I don’t know what she said but soon there were three more people standing with their hands over their hearts.

 

As we walked up the hill, stark white headstones lining either side of the road, I felt the sun shining on my face. I looked around at this group of strangers – the Gunny in full dress blues pushing Darnell’s wheelchair, Tina walking purposefully next to him, my brother’s buddy pale and fighting through pain, TJ’s family and friends – I realized that they weren’t really strangers. We were bound to each other by something so deep, so precious, so painful, it couldn’t be put into words. Eventually, we made it to a freshly turned mound of earth in Section 60. The guns saluted. Taps played. The tears fell. We hugged. We honored one of our own.

 

When I embraced TJ’s sister that day, I had no idea that she had once taken in my brother. Had looked after him, fed him, and given him a place to sleep. All we knew in that moment was the common bond of sisterhood and the United States Marine Corps. It wasn’t until months later that I found out that TJ had been the Marine in the airport who gave my brother a place to spend the night until they both reported for training the next morning.

 

On that Monday morning last November, my life changed. A need to do more to support Marine families and our Wounded Warriors was awakened. Looking back, I think it was because I realized the cost of freedom and appreciated it in a way that I never could have before. Freedom became personal.

 

And so, on this, the one year anniversary of Terry’s death, I say…

Thank you.

I will not forget.

I will honor your memory.

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Comment by BirdManOfCT on February 24, 2013 at 7:28pm

Amy, thank you for sharing a wonderful story. My monitor's still blurry....

Comment by 1~kimg (Kim) on December 22, 2011 at 5:22pm

Amy your descriptions of this day are so vivid, I felt like I was there. Thank you for representing all of us and hugs to you.

Comment by IndianaMomBeth on November 21, 2011 at 3:00pm

As my son has not been deployed as of yet and we have not been through this part of the "life in the corp," the way your heart and feelings have changed is the way mine changed that day of boot camp graduation. Everyone's son has become my son. I feel so much more in tune with the military life like I've never felt before. It's like my heart could explode for all these young men and women that have chosen at such a young age that they want to serve our country. They have made such an adult decision as a child. They didn't know what they were getting themselves into but they still wanted to do and are glad they did. I comment all these people who want to keep America safe. They should all be honored every day for their sacrifice, especially while they are here and can here it.

Thank you for sharing.

Comment by 3milemom on November 13, 2011 at 8:24am

Thank you for writing this Amy.

Comment by Shellebelle (Michelle) on November 6, 2011 at 10:30pm
Incredible!  I feel honored to have been able to read this and I plan on sharing it!
Comment by 1~lcs1925 (Susan) on November 6, 2011 at 3:28pm

Amy,

Thank you for writing this beautiful tribute to someone who gave his life serving our country. You honor his memory by making us remember his sacrifice.

Susan

Comment by zzzaney on October 30, 2011 at 9:18pm

Amy,

That's one day that I'll never be able to, or want to, forget. But it's so moving to see it again through your eyes. I was so busy navigating traffic that to be able to 'see' the details I wasn't able to means a lot to me. The one thing I've always known ever since my days as active duty army, is that we're all family. TJ and his sister taking in Kyle at the airport and helping him doesn't surprise me. Random acts of kindness have always followed our 'family' in many different ways and that's the one constant that I know will never change.

I have an old army buddy I hadn't seen in 23 years and when I took Darnell and his friends back to SOI during Thanksgiving break he opened his door for me to spend the night and catch up without any hesitation. My door is open to all my military family no matter the circumstances, too. That's what makes our military family so special.

I'm so glad that you were able to be there with us at the funeral. You made it a whole lot more bearable for me for sure. You're a great friend and I'm so glad that I got to add you to my 'family'. (you can't shake me now, you're stuck with me lol).

I sadly have to admit though, that with everything we were going thru at the time I hadn't realized how difficult it was for you, too. Sending hugs to you Amy and I'm so glad that you live close enough that you are able to go to WR and help w/ the wounded. And I'm very glad you finally got to talk to Eamon :)

Please keep writing your blog, I love reading it.

Comment by pamela0115 on October 27, 2011 at 2:18pm
Hi Amy I remember getting the email from from the FRO a few days after his death and it broke my heart.  He served with my son.  He will be forever missed.
Comment by 1~17smom (Julie) on October 26, 2011 at 11:10pm

Amy, your blog hits a little too close to home right now to say much.  But I'm glad you decided to begin writing here.  We all live with the knowledge that it can't always be someone else's child.  But when we start down this path, we begin to realize that every one of these young men or women who give their lives are our children, or our brothers or sisters.  We don't forget them, never can, and never should.

 

Julie

3/3 Weapons Co

DEPLOYED

Comment by Double Dad on October 26, 2011 at 11:04pm
Oh, Amy. Thank you for keeping the memory of a Marine alive and thank you for sharing your memories. You've written a powerful post that should be read by many.

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