June 9, 2010.
Like many days, that day I dialed my mom’s number after I left work. She answered the phone with a broken and desperate voice.
“Mom? Is something wrong?”
“What is it?”
“Ben got killed in Afghanistan,” she sobbed.
“No, he didn’t. NO, he didn’t. He did NOT!” I protested, as though if I shouted it enough times, it wouldn’t be true.
“Yes, he did…” she cried.
I hung up to call RJ, but he couldn’t understand my screaming. I finally took a deep breath, and screamed, “Ben’s dead!” That he heard.
RJ swung into the parking lot where I’d exited the road. I fell into his arms screaming. He wrapped himself around me and carried me to his truck.
All our kids were packed up, and the dogs were boarded. We began the journey to Tennessee to wait with our family for Ben. Everyone was in shock. This was not supposed to happen. You don’t understand…THIS WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN. Ben had spent YEARS training as an Elite Forces pararescueman (PJ) in the United States Air Force. After all those years training for carrying out lifesaving rescue in the most extreme of combat situations, Ben had given his life saving others after only six weeks in Afghanistan. Six weeks, 93 rescue missions. How could this be? We couldn’t wrap our heads around the fact that he was gone. It seemed like he’d only just arrived there.
In Tennessee, we received few answers. The helicopter had been shot down by the Taliban. An RPG, known for it’s inaccuracy, had found its way to the tail rotor. Four had died upon crash. Three survived, but with severe burns and injuries. Their fate remained unknown, though one would succumb weeks later. We waited for word as to when Ben would be returned to us.
Then came the call. Westboro Baptist Church notified our local radio station and newspaper that they intended to protest Ben’s funeral. Shock, agony, anger, and several emotions I’ve never experienced and cannot name whirled around inside me. I thought I was going to faint. How could anyone assert such opportunistic hatred into the worst moments of our lives? Unimaginable insult thrust itself upon uncontainable grief to produce incredulous agony. I found myself wishing I could physically hurt these horrible people, but was left feeling helpless, as any action on my part would simply gratify them and detract from Ben.
We were notified that Ben’s body was being returned to us on Saturday morning, June 19, ten days after he had given his life. The family made plans to meet at the airport for his first and final homecoming.
What happened next was the most awesome, miraculous, encouraging, incredible, and unimaginable outpouring of human love, respect, and support I’ve ever witnessed in my life.
Join me in experiencing it….