Life can change in the blink of an eye. I learned this at a very early age, 20 to be exact. Michael and I were high school sweethearts, together for five years. When we graduated high school in 1988, he told me of his plans to join the Army and become a helicopter pilot. On the day of his testing, I prayed hard that he would fail the test—not because I wanted him to fail, but because I knew this would be a dangerous job. He passed with flying colors.
In April of 1990, Michael and I married. He had joined the Army as an OH-58 Aerial Scout Observer (co-pilot) for the Apache Attack helicopter. He got stationed at Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah, Georgia. We decided to get married by Justice of the Peace because of all the turmoil that was going on in the Persian Gulf. He could be deployed at any time. We planned to have a big wedding in the future.
For the time being, we decided to have a belated honeymoon (it was now the beginning of August). We drove from Savannah to Florida to catch a cruise to the Bahamas. We planned a five-day honeymoon getaway. On the first day there, it was a Bahamian holiday and everything was closed. The following morning, Michael received a call from his commander saying that his leave was cancelled and he needed to return to Hunter Army Airfield immediately because his unit was being sent to Kuwait. I was devastated! His commander said he would re-route a plane from Honduras to pick him up. Michael told him he was not going to leave his wife in the Bahamas and that we would drive back immediately. We did not get a honeymoon after all.
We returned to Hunter Army Airfield the following day, and his unit didn’t leave for another two weeks. On the day he left, his unit was “locked down” behind a chain link, barbed wire fence. All the wives were wearing sunglasses to hide their tears, saying their goodbyes through the chain link fence. I remember saying to him, “Promise me you’re coming back!” His answer was, “Misty, you know I can’t promise you that.” This was the hardest day of my life (or so I thought) because deep down I knew we would never see each other again.
On August 29, 1990, Michael deployed to Kuwait. I decided to try to stay in Savannah because he was told he would probably only be in Kuwait for 6sixmonths. I would get calls from Michael about once a week at all times of the night due to the time difference. I learned that he would be gone longer than six months and he suggested I go to South Dakota to be with my family. In September, my mother, sister, and brother-in-law drove to Savannah to take me home to wait for Michael.
I was absolutely miserable without Michael. It was so hard to watch the news. Michael still called at all hours of the night, but his phone calls were getting fewer and far between due to the location they were at (top secret). It was now September. Michael told me that other units were being sent to Germany for up to two weeks “R&R (rest and relaxation)” He encouraged me to go to Germany and stay with his parents (his dad was stationed in Vilsek). On December 3, I flew to Germany to await Michael’s return. I wrote him a letter every day and sent care packages as often as I could. Phone calls were infrequent, but I cherished every one. Michael had called me in mid-December and told me that he wrote me a poem after a dream that he had. I asked him what the dream was about, and he said he couldn’t tell me. I was anxious to get the poem. I would realize later that his poem was a premonition of things to come.
On the morning of January 16, 1991 I turned the TV on to read “America At War”. I panicked. I called my mom and she assured me that our guys were doing great so far and not to worry. I still couldn’t help feeling helpless and afraid.
On the evening of February 20, I was writing Michael my “daily letter” and I remember typing “I can’t live without you” and I stopped, thought about it, and backed spaced to change it to “I can’t live without your love” Unbeknownst to me, Michael was standing over my shoulder already an angel, telling me that I had to live without him, but I would always have his love. I joined Michael’s parents and sister downstairs to watch the American Music Awards. The light kept flickering on and off. We all thought it was eerie. The news interrupted the awards show with breaking news that an OH-58 had crashed and there were two American casualties. Michael’s mother looked at me in a panic and asked, “what if it’s Michael?!” I tried to reassure her that it wasn’t, but deep down I knew.
At about 1:00 AM, I heard the doorbell ringing. I got a big lump in my throat, and my heart was racing. The hall light came on and shone through the glass door of my bedroom. I could see a silhouette of Michael’s parents. I opened the door to see my father-in-law holding my mother-in-law as her knees buckled and she cried, “Nooooo!” My father-in-law turned to look at me with the most terrifying, wide eyes. He said, “Misty, you have to go downstairs.” As I walked down the winding staircase, I knew…..
At the bottom of the stairs, I was greeted by two men in their Army BDU’s. One had a white Chaplain’s cuff around his neck. As I sat on the couch, he put his arm around me while we waited for Michael’s parents and sister to come downstairs. Michael’s dad had been given “casualty notification duty” because his unit was one of few that was not deployed. He had just rehearsed a practice notification the day before with the two gentlemen now sitting in our living room. The Chaplain clutched my shoulder tight as the other gentleman looked me in the eye and said, “It is with great sadness that I have to inform you that your husband was killed in action at 2030 hours last night when his helicopter crashed near the Saudi Iraqi border”. I asked, “Are you sure it was him?” He said, “Yes, Maam—we don’t inform unless we’re sure.” Everything went a little blurry and in slow motion as I looked at all the pictures of Michael strewn all over the living room. With everything inside me, all my emotions erupted like a volcano, and I screamed, “Nooooooooooo!” In an instant, my future life with Michael, my hopes, my dreams, my everything……………….was all gone—and there wasn’t a darn thing I could do about it. I had the world in the palm of my hands and in an instant; it fell and broke into a million pieces. Just five days ago, Michael called and told me, “Things are going to get tough. When you feel you can’t handle everything, just give it to God.” He knew.
Following is a story that my mother wrote about everything that happened when Michael was killed. I dedicate this story to all the Men and Women fighting for our freedom, and especially to all the American Widows. May God bless you all and give you strength.