With the attention being paid to military families during this election season, I’ve been thinking about how important military communities are throughout deployment and afterward.
Military families everywhere understand the struggle of saying goodbye to their loved ones as they are deployed. Once Larry received his orders for Vietnam, I tried to brace myself for his departure as much as possible, but nothing could really prepare me for the experience itself.
In my memoir, Where the Water Meets the Sand, I wrote about my ambivalence regarding Larry’s deployment. “I didn’t tell Larry how afraid I was for him to go. I knew what flying meant to him, and because of what he meant to me, I didn’t want to burden him. I wanted to ask him to stay, but I didn’t dare.” I admired his commitment to protect our country but a huge part of me felt selfish for not wanting him to leave.
Some of my friends whose husbands were deploying expressed the same feelings. Learning to adjust to life on my own while Larry was away was harder than I ever imagined. Yet, I was fortunate to have friends whose husbands were also deployed and experiencing the same thing. Just months after Larry deployed to Vietnam, I deployed to the Menninger Clinic.
Even after Larry was killed, military bases felt like home to me. Driving through the gate of Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka to meet the Sergeant assigned to assist me after Larry’s death and shopping at the Base Exchange felt like coming home. Laura stayed at daycare at Forbes while I earned my last few credits for my bachelor’s degree and we bought our groceries at the commissary on the base. When Laura had pneumonia, doctors at the hospital on the base took care of her. I felt an immense sense of community and belonging. Even though Larry and I had lived at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock while Larry was in pilot training, Forbes still felt like home base. Laura and I were part of this military family and in some ways, will always be.
I’m grateful even today for the support from the military community. Retired Colonel Tom Yarborough, Archer Battista, Naomi Fisher and Retired Colonel Larry Greer continue to be supportive and are all dear to me. I waited so long to finally put Larry to rest in Arlington and they were there every step of the way. The path that Laura and I took to get him home was not one we walked alone.