My Marine

Posted | 12 comments

My Marine

“To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” – Thomas Campbell

My oldest is a Marine. He’s been in for three and a half years. His contract is for five. He spent most of the first year training. The next two years he was far from home on the island of Okinawa. This made me extremely happy. Not that he was so far away, but because if you’re already overseas, you’re probably not going to be deployed.

Zak is a tactical data network specialist. That’s Marine slang for computer nerd. When people hear this, they immediately assume that he will be tucked away safe in some air conditioned office stateside for the duration of his military career. I wish this were true.

What they fail to understand is that every Marine is a rifleman first. What that means is that a Marine, whether he is a grunt on the front lines, a cook, or a computer nerd, is expected to always be ready to fight. Combat readiness for every Marine is serious business. The other thing I think they fail to understand is that Marines use computers to communicate, and all Marines, especially the ones risking their lives on the front lines, depend on the technology Zak has mastered.

As a tech guy he is “attached” to battalion. In Okinawa, he was attached to a battalion whose motto was something along the lines of “we get as close to the enemy as we can and blow it up.”  Not really comforting stuff for a mama. Luckily, while he was with them, there wasn’t much that needed blowing up. Now he’s attached to infantry. Those are the men trained to fight face-to-face on the front lines. His battalion operates in some of the most dangerous areas in the world.

Where they go, he goes, and they are going to be deployed.

For the past three and half years, I have worked diligently to block deployment from my mind. I’ve prayed many a prayer that the politicians in Washington would decide it was time to pull all our troops before my son could be sent. No such luck.

Zak and I talk and text from time to time, but he doesn’t say much. He gives me information in small bits and pieces. I could blame the Marines, but it’s always been this way with Zak. What I do get from him is that they are all working crazy long hours training. Zak says he is looking forward to it, but it’s with the focus and the tension of a fighter getting ready to step into the ring. He answers my questions, but his eyes are forward, unblinking, looking towards the job that has to be done.

Where his attention flows, mine follows. I’m his mother. It’s not a choice.

As the deployment looms large, I’ve had no choice but to open my eyes. First, there were the emails from the family readiness officer. Next, there was the task of connecting with private groups for Marine parents. Then, today, there was a post. It was in honor of the Marines of the battalion my son belongs to who died during their last deployment.

Today it got real.

Yes, I know Zak is more likely to be killed in a car wreck or by pulling some crazy stunt that twenty somethings find endlessly amusing. I know that most Marines come home safe and sound and live long, happy and productive lives. I know Zak is more than well-trained to do the job he needs to do. I also know he is walking into this situation willingly with the most bad-ass-well-trained-big-hearted-men who walk the planet.

But as I look at the sweet faces of the ones who gave their lives, as I gaze into their smiling eyes, all I can think about is the lives that will not be lived. And my heart breaks for the moms and dads and brothers and sisters and wives and children left behind. And the only face I really see is the face of my son.

Say what you will, but I carried him in my belly for nine long months, and I’ve loved him with my whole heart for over twenty long years. I don’t want him to go. I don’t want any of them to go.

I don’t have a choice.

Instead I’ll do what I can. I’ll love and support my son. I’ll pray for him and every Marine with him. I’ll hold tight to the belief that they will all remain safe and come home to the love of family and friends to live the lives they dream of living.

Note: I’ve not been given any dates or locations. At this point everything is on a need to know basis. The Marines don’t think I need to know and I’m rolling with that.


  1. Oh, Denise, my heart aches for you. I know how hard this must be. My thoughts and good wishes are with you and Zak and his whole battalion. hugs…

  2. I’m not sure when tears started running down my face whilst reading your beautiful, sad, heart felt words Denise. I am now openly crying. As a mother of young men, I so resonated with your words “Where his attention flows, mine follows. I’m his mother. It’s not a choice.” Thank you for your courage and honesty in sharing this with us. Sending love and light to you, Zac and his Battalion. xxx

    • Oh, Cyndi, I’m sorry. We’re hard-wired to protect them, aren’t we? There’s no way around that. Honestly, the only brave thing I’ve done is to step back to let him live his own life, make his own mistakes, and deal with the outcomes. Cowards cling in fear, but when you stay in love you can let go and let live.

  3. Your words, your heart rings so true. You have most eloquently described what others feel. This will help them as well. I’ve got your back, my dear.
    I know. I truly know.

  4. As always, beautifully said.
    I was going through pictures for McLean’s rehearsal dinner the other day and happened across some from City Kids. They were all just there… under the love and care of Tricia, Mary Alice, Anne, Fawn, and Julie, right?? Alex was just frolicking in the Whittle Courtyard with Halle Rose at a Symphony event just yesterday! Walking in lines holding their knot on the rope. Sitting in stadium style in that big-ass stroller. Just how is it that Logan Brill is now singing in concert venues, your son is putting his very life on the line for me and my countrymen? How is it they are even allowed to drive cars all by themselves??
    As a mom, I know how your heart aches. I have a hard time when one of mine has to make a 5 hour trip in the car in torrential rain. I try to turn worry into something more productive like prayer and try to learn to let go… So I totally get your heart. I honor and applaud what Zak is doing for us, and I honor and applaud the love and support he gets from his family. You have certainly got my prayers. It will be my honor to pray for Zak and his battalion when they go. Godspeed.

    • I remember how nervous I was when they graduated from the stroller to the rope. I use to tell him (everyday I’m sure), “whatever you do, don’t let go of the rope.” I was so afraid he’d let go and get lost or smooshed by a car.

      I know that you know it’s a balancing act…being there for them without smothering them to death. The hardest AND the most important thing for us to do as parents is for us to get out of the way and let them live their own lives. My head and my heart wrestle with this one. In the end, my heart always wins. I love the boy but I respect the man he is more.

  5. This is so true. This is exactly how I felt when my son left for his first deployment. And now his 2nd one is coming up. I pray that all of them come back home safe and sound to their loved ones.

  6. My heart cracks open as I read your words: “I don’t want him to go. I don’t want any of them to go.”

    I am an adult. I know there are wars and that there have been brutal wars and so many lives lost in them since the beginning of time, yet I still weep at the thought of human beings killing human beings and that we must “train” our youth to fight.

    My heart is with you here, Denise. Thank you for articulating this fear so beautifully and for giving us a window into both the fear and the wisdom you hold as a mother: “I love the boy but I respect the man he is more.”

    Standing with you here and praying the next year and a half pass swiftly and safely.

    • If every single person would make the decision to not, under any circumstances, take the life of another, our world would be a different place. It’s one single change in thought. It really is that simple.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *