Death at the front door: Part II

August 21, 2008

CONTINUED FROM “Death at the front door: Part I

Cooper and Buddy

Fortunately Lex is the senior Pharmacy Technician for a major drug store chain and I also have our family doctor’s cell phone number.  I called him and explained what had happened and he called in an Rx for Lex to help her sleep. 

Her older sister finally went home to her husband.  Poor Stephen.  My daughter just dropped the phone and said “Buddy got killed.  I’m going to mom’s!” and left the poor guy there with their two year old son sleeping.  My daughter told me they stayed up most of the night just talking about how unbelievable it was.  The four of them had already bought their tickets and were planning on going for a two week cruise after Buddy got back home.  Stephen said to my daughter, “Here we’ve been waiting for Buddy to get home and now he’s waiting for us to get home.”  I thought that was pretty profound.

Lex’s best friends both stayed with her that night, one on each side of her in that queen bed, hugging her. 

I went to bed but didn’t sleep a wink at all.  I just layed there… so much racing through my mind.  How could it have happened… him being the only one killed.  He was the friggn medic!  How in the hell do you let your medic get killed?!  Those damn Muslims! No sir, no sleep for me that night.

Around two a.m. Lex’s phone rings… It was Cody one of Buddy’s close friends.  Buddy and Cody had known each other since childhood and were in the same OK Guard unit.  Cody said that Buddy was killed while rendering aid to three wounded Afghani Army National soldiers… that he had saved two lives before a sniper killed him with a single shot. They cried and talked for a while.  Lex found was told that Buddy had never been left alone, there had always been someone with him he told her.  He said he had never seen so many grown men cry so much for so long.  Buddy was the first casualty in that unit in over fifty years.  So, they end the call and Lex said that even though Cooper’s daddy had been killed at least maybe Buddy had saved some other little boys daddy.

Seems like it took forever for the next morning to get here.  But it’s Tuesday morning and for several years now I have been attending a Christian business owners Bible study.  I was there at 6:30.  There are only about eight to ten of us and most of them had met Buddy and we had from time to time prayed for him as we pray at the close of each meeting.  Of course that hour and a half meeting that morning was all about our family.  One of the things that the death notification guys told us the night before is that it could take up to ten days to two weeks for Buddy’s remains to get back to the states.  So all this time Lex is wondering… how messed up is Buddy?  Will she be able to see him again… as she knew him or will it have to be a closed casket.  So we prayed specifically for that that morning.  I remember word for word that prayer.  “Lord we ask that you somehow allow the army to get Buddy home so fast that they will be scratching their heads wondering how that happened.”  That was around eight a.m. that Tuesday the 2oth.  I don’t know what I would have done without those guys that morning.  I got so much strength from them. 

I think I was home around eight-thirty that morning.  One of the first one’s over was Will, a good friend we go to church with.  He came over with a huge cooler with various drinks iced down in it.   I could tell he was very uncomfortable… not knowing what to say but needing to do something to try to help.  What a friend.  I joke with him to this day that he has an awesome “Cooler Ministry”.  Honestly that truly was a tremendous help.

Early that morning I called a very good friend of mine who lives in Myrtle Beach (about an hour and a half away) and told him about Buddy.  He took the day off from work and was at our house in less than two hours.  We spent the day together.  It’s all sort of a  blur but emotionally so vivid.  Scott had moved away a few years earlier but we remain close to this day.  We have counted on each other during some very difficult seasons.  I love that man. 

Mid morning this army Sergeant comes over.  He is Alexis’ Casualty Assistance Officer.  He explains to her that he is her contact and that he is here for her for what ever she needs for as long as she needs.    Lex is still wondering if there will be an open casket.  He gives her the same answer, could be ten days to two weeks for his remains to get back state side.  He was a nice guy and was a big help.  One big question Lex had was, could they fly Buddy to Oklahoma for a memorial ceremony out there so his friends and family could say good  by?  The Sergeant explains the it is unlikely that the army would approve two services.  Usually they only pay for one but he would make the request.  After he left Lex determined that even if she had to pay for it with the life insurance money she was going to honor Buddy by letting him say goodby to his friends that he had grown up with all of his life.  She wanted him buried here where she and little Cooper could visit him.

Later that morning another army guy comes by.  Buddy and Alexis had taken out some kind of extra policy and he was there to give her a big check for incidental expenses. It was a big check… more than enough to fly Buddy to Oklahoma and back plus to fly our family out there and back as well.

By lunch time our church family began swooping in and taking care of various things.  Man talk about food.  It wasn’t long before our refrigerator was full so we began filling the freezer too.  I don’t know what people do at times like this when they don’t have a close church family.  All I know is things would have been a great deal more  difficult if we had to take care of a lot of the things our church family did.

By afternoon the flowers and plants started arriving.  I’m glad there were people here to handle everything so we just didn’t have to bother with a thing.  We were just being nurtured and loved.  Still numb really.

I got a call about mid-afternoon from another good friend (Tom) I used to go to church with.  He only lives out in the sticks not that far out.  He said he was going to take the next day off and spend it with me… was that okay?  What a great guy.  He is a general contractor who builds multi million dollar homes exclusively on “The Islands” and he never takes a week day off.  What a  blessing it will be to have Tom with me on Wednesday after having Scott with me on Tuesday.

It isn’t until now as I sit writing at this key board that I see how God was weaving that tapestry of protection around my aching heart.

Alexis’ phone rang around six-ish that Tuesday night.  It was her Casualty Assistance Officer notifying her that Buddy’s remains had just landed in Delaware!  Remember our prayer from this morning? 

So at least Buddy was back in the states and he is still escorted by one of his good friends whom Alexis also knows from her year out there in OK.  But will the army fly him out to Oklahoma for a memorial service?

TO BE CONTINUED in Part III

 


Death at the front door: Part I

August 20, 2008

It had been one of those Mondays so my wife and I went up to bed around nine that night. 

Our daughter and son-in-law had moved back in with us the previous May when his National Guard unit was activated to deploy to Afghanistan.  They had married a little over a year before and moved to Buddy’s small home town of Poteau, Oklahoma so Alexis could get to know his family before he deployed.  It was always in the plans for her to stay with us while he was gone.

Our evening had been pretty uneventful.  Except that Lex mentioned (around six) that she hadn’t heard from Buddy yet and was wondering what was going on.  He would usually call her ever day.   On this particular day he was supposed to call her to let her know which of the pictures he liked best. 

You see Buddy had come home for two weeks leave in November ’06 for the birth of their son Cooper.  He was home a mere two days before his birth.  It’s important to understand that Buddy had never met his father and was determined to be the daddy to his boy that he never had.  He did everything with baby Cooper while he was home.  The two of them were literally inseperable.  One of my favorite memories of him and infant Cooper is, while holding his son, looking into his pretty new born pink skinned face and saying “you are the most beautiful thing in the whole world” then  ever so gently kissing him on his little cheek. 

Back to the pictures… Lex had taken little Cooper down to have his three month old protraits taken (on Saturday) and had emailed them to Buddy and when he called her on Sunday he told her how much Cooper  had changed, how beautiful he was, how much he missed them and couldn’t wait to be home in three months.  He would let her know which ones he liked best the next day (Monday) when he called.

So, any way, we said good night to Lex and her friend Lee as we went off to bed.

It was Monday, February 19th, 2007 at 9:40pm when Lee screemed up the stairs, “Mrs. C, there’s a couple of guys at the front door in green uniforms!!

My wife and I instantly looked at each other and knew this was bad.  Very bad.   We ran down the stairs and there, standing outside of our (all glass) front door were two men in Army dress green uniforms holding a folder in their hands.

Alexis was just frozen about eight feet from the door in the hallway, slightly bent at the waist, clutching her hands to her chest and already saying, no no no no no.  My wife let them in the door and they asked, “Mrs.  Alexis Hughie?”  Yes, my wife responded for her.  Then it came…”On behalf of the United States Army we regret to inform you that your husband, Sergant Buddy James Hughie, has been killed in action.”  “NO, NO, NO, NO IT CAN’T BE TRUE.  IT’S GOT TO BE A MISTAKE.  I LOVE HIM SO MUCH.  WHAT IS COOPER GOING TO DO?  HE DOESN’T HAVE A DADDY ANY MORE!!”  She was just sobbing so hard as she crumpled into a pile of human flesh right there in our foyer.   For the first time in my life I was completely powerless to protect her from unbearable pain and heartache.   Her daddy just had to stand there and let it all unfold.  Her gut wrenching screams and moans haunt me to this day.  My wife immediately called our older daughter who literally lives just around the corner.  In less than two minutes she swooped in the front door and they both wrapped their arms around each other, sobbing on the floor.

I called my pastor and said “Two army guys are here and just told us that Buddy has been killed in action.”  He was at our front door in less than ten minutes.  I was just numb.   It wasn’t long before our home was full of people.  Alexis’ two best friends (Lee & Amy) were now there with her taking turns holding her, rocking her in their arms.

I was out on the front porch now speaking with my pastor and one of the elders of our church… telling them that I should have prayed for him more.  Pastor assurred me that although things seem dark now that God was not surprised by these events, for me not to beat myself up, that Alexis needs me now.

I just can’t write any more now….