It has been quite some time since I’ve written. There are times when I tell myself that I am done writing, that I’ve done and said enough. And then, something happens and my heart becomes overwhelmed with emotions and I don’t know how to make sense of any of it. Recently, a Marine that served in the same battalion as Javier took the time to write about him. He interviewed me. He interviewed my kids. He interviewed the Marines that were present on November 16, 2010. I knew that reading what he wrote would be extremely painful, but I had no idea that I would feel so broken and depressed afterward. I thought I would be able to read it, cry about it, and carry on. I was very wrong. I read it, cried my eyes out, and then gave up on life for about a week straight. I still can’t get some of it out of my head. The detail in which he described Javier’s death was extremely painful to read. A part of me feels mad that he wrote the story because it hurt me to the very core of my soul and then there is a bigger part that feels grateful that it was written because maybe through this story, Americans can get a sense of the price of freedom.
It shed a new light on the other side of Javi’s death. The side that nobody ever talks about. What his Marines experienced. And, now that I know, I have so much I want to say to every Marine that was there that day, but I am not strong enough to say it to them directly or individually. So, I will write about it, in hopes that whoever was there that day, whoever was affected by Javi’s death, will read this and know how grateful I am.
How do I begin? How do I find the words to thank the Marines who served with Javier? There are truly not enough words, in any language, to express my gratitude. How do I find the words to tell you how brave you are? What words could I ever say to you to express how sorry I am for everything you saw, experienced, but most of all for the pain it has caused you?
I knew that the day must have been really hard for all of you, but I guess somewhere in my mind I figured you either shut it out or maybe it didn’t affect you that much because he wasn’t a part of your immediate family. I saw each of you come back from that deployment and continue with your lives. You were reunited with wives, children, family members and friends. Some of you got married. Some of you had more children. Some of you got divorced and then got married again. Life seemed to go on, as usual. If I’m being really honest, when several members of the platoon gave me the pictures on your memory cards so that I could go through them and make sure that I have every picture of Javier that was taken while on deployment, I remember looking at the dates. I looked at the pictures you took from the November 15th. I looked at the pictures taken on November 16th. I looked at the pictures from November 17th.
I saw that on November 17th the platoon was gathered around with the locals. Some Marines were participating in a dance with them. It seemed as though it was business, as usual. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t bitter. I wasn’t bothered by this. I knew you had no choice but to carry on. I knew you couldn’t and wouldn’t be given an opportunity to grieve or mourn, because there was a mission to accomplish. I was relieved that it appeared as though you weren’t affected too much by his death, because the pain that I felt was unbearable and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, much less any of you.
From November 16th until the day you returned, I wondered about you. I prayed that God would keep you safe. I prayed that you would come home safe and sound to your families. I prayed that you would speak to me and answer the questions that kept me up at nigh about that awful day.
As the days and months passed and your return got closer, I was torn. I was torn between being happy for you and your families and being completely heartbroken and jealous that Javier, our kids, and I were not getting the same homecoming. I wanted each of you to know how proud he was of you. I wanted each of you to know how much I appreciate you, but I didn’t want to taint your homecoming with sadness. I wanted you all to come off that bus and be happy and excited to be reunited with your loved ones without feeling the pain or guilt of seeing me and my kids.
When you returned, some of you helped me finalize the celebration of life for Javier. Some of you helped me move. Some of you helped me paint. Some of you baby sat the kids for me. Some of you would drop by our house to check in on me and the kids from time to time. Some of you were ready at a moment’s notice to help me and the kids, no questions asked. One of the most meaningful moments of my life was the evening when a group of you surrounded my kitchen island and we talked about that deployment. You told me stories I had never heard. You even briefly discussed that awful day that Javier died. I didn’t cry. I found comfort in your presence. I found relief in the fact that you had opened up. I admired every one of you for your strength, bravery, and heroism.
Thank you for honoring Javier’s ultimate sacrifice by choosing life. Thank you for the strength that you’ve shown, even in your struggles. While I can’t possibly begin to imagine what it must be like to live with the memories of that day, I am extremely proud of the way that you’ve all found a way to cope. You are all still here, and every one of your lives matters to me.
I’m so grateful for everything that you’ve done for me and for the support that you’ve been to me and my children. I also appreciate that you’ve found a way to accept my new relationship and be happy for me. However, none of that compares to the undying gratitude that I will always have for the way in which you honored Javier.
It was truly a display of complete excellence that in the midst of chaos, tragedy, and eminent danger, you all still chose to honor your platoon sergeant until the last possible second. While it may not register to everyone, I recognize that you didn’t throw his body over your shoulders. You didn’t leave his body exposed. You didn’t leave his body behind. You could have easily run back to the patrol base and come back with reinforcements, but you didn’t. You pulled out a stretcher. You covered his body to protect and preserve his dignity. You carried him for almost a mile. For those that were not on the patrol, I appreciate that you didn’t hesitate or worry about your safety. You put yourself aside and ran to meet your fellow Marines. You relieved them and finished carrying him into the patrol base. You took turns carrying the stretcher that his body was laid on while you waited for the helicopter to arrive. You never left his side. I appreciate that the sheet was raised. I appreciate that one of you gave him one final kiss. I appreciate that one final prayer was said over his body. Words fail me. I don’t even know how to express my gratitude.
While I appreciate every single one of you, equally, I must address one of you directly. Zack, if you ever read this, I want you to know that I’ve never wished to have been a part of that day, until I read what you went through on that helicopter ride. I wish, with all of my heart that I could take some or all of the pain and the weight of that day from you. You were the last to be alone with Javier. Thank you for the honor that you showed him by not taking your eyes off of him. Thank you for every second of that helicopter ride. Before you shared your experience, I would wonder. I wondered if he was alone, and the thought of him being alone on that helicopter broke my heart and hurt my soul. While I hate that you were injured, I am grateful that you were with him. And, I’m even more grateful that despite your injury, despite such a traumatic experience, your focus and concentration was completely dedicated to Javier. Lastly, I want you to know that while reading the accounts of that day broke my entire heart, and maybe even worse than receiving the news, the folded flag, and the 21 gun salute, one very important thing you did on that awful day, reminded me to get it together and not let my emotions defeat me. You refused a wheelchair. You got out of that helicopter and despite your injury, you WALKED alongside Javier until the very end. In the worst thirty minutes of your life, you embodied the Marine Corps core values…honor, courage, and commitment. You honored Javier by not leaving his side. It took courage to not close your eyes and keep them on him, and it took commitment to refuse the wheelchair and walk next to him until he was taken away. Thank you seems so inappropriate and insufficient to express the gratitude and appreciation that I feel in my heart for you.
Last, I would like to apologize to all of you for ever being naive enough to think that Javier’s death was something that you could stop thinking about, with time. Truth of the matter is, he was and is your family. He is your brother and I am so very sorry if I ever diminished your loss, pain, or struggles. I never meant to do so. I simply did not understand the magnitude and the affect that it had on you because you all have shown so much courage and strength. We both suffered a great loss, and while some may think that my loss was greater because he was my husband, I have come to understand that while my memories of that day are tragic, they will never compare to yours. I remember Javier’s smile. I remember every detail of his face. However, I am now painfully aware that when you think of him, your memory brings you back to tragedy and it is not easy to picture him as he once was. People tell me I’m strong, but the truth is that I am weak and you all are the only ones who have shown true strength in all of this. I can’t thank you enough for continuing to honor SSgt. Ortiz by choosing life, every day since November 16, 2010.
Your platoon sergeant said it best…
“I could not ask for a better group of guys. I am so proud of them.” SSgt. Ortiz, USMC