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April 08, 2006

Marine Wives - Always Faithful

Six or seven weeks ago, a very old friend called me on the phone. We've been stationed together a million times over the years. Her husband was finally retiring from the Marine Corps after over 30 years of active service and she was calling to say goodbye.

It was almost nine o'clock and my husband still wasn't home from work. Nothing different about that. Outside the rain was dripping on the leaves. I'd had a hard day at work, and I lay flat on my back on the cool tiles of my kitchen floor as we talked about old times. Hard to believe she was finally leaving...

When was he getting out, she asked? That elicited a good laugh. "That's the 64,000 dollar question these days, hon - you know that", I said rather wryly. "God love 'em, we can't live without them, but if we murder them in their sleep, we'll just end up in jail." She said she wasn't going to miss it. She was tired. I said she was lying, but I was tired, too. Earlier, months ago, we'd talked about how disconnected we felt, being stationed in the DC area and being married to the guys with the lobotomy scars**.

To tell the truth, I don't miss some aspects of military life: some of the politics, and the silly disagreements which are inevitable in any close family. But what I do miss - a lot - is the selflessness and dedication shown by Marine wives to each other. I miss the camaraderie. I've seen and heard some amazing things in my over twenty years in the Corps. For all we talk about the bravery and spirit shown by our fighting men, their women show just as much grit and determination.

Thanks to Carrie, today I'm able to bring you one such story:

In a place of fallen heroes, Emily Dieruf of Kentucky reunited with hers yesterday.

The face of her late husband, Marine Cpl. Nicholas Dieruf of Versailles, looked out from a canvas, one of more than 1,300 artistic remembrances of lost comrades from the Iraqi and Afghan conflicts.

They are part of "Faces of the Fallen," an exhibit that opened yesterday at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery.

"The artist did a great job. I love how she got the flag in the background," Emily Dieruf said of the portrait of her "Nich," who was killed in Iraq on April 8, 2004. He was 21.

Outside the women's memorial, Emily Dieruf reflected on the crowd.

"He would have thought, what was all the hoopla about," she said of her late husband. "I had to ask him to wear his dress blues to our wedding."

With her was a picture of her wedding day, Jan. 3, 2004. They are smiling from the back of a limousine.

"Our time together was so short," she said. "It was like a really, really good dream."

homecoming.jpg Then the Marine went back to complete his second tour in Iraq. He'd been with one of the first units into Iraq.

He was six months from finishing his service when his convoy, operating in a province near Syria, was ambushed. He was the only soldier killed in the attack.

Emily is only 24 now. So young. There are a lot of things she could have done with her grief. It could have made her bitter before her time. She could well have turned it inward, felt sorry for herself.

Or she could have gotten angry, become another Cindy Sheehan.

But Emily's response to tragedy was uniquely Marine. Her husband would have been proud of her. She didn't waste time feeling sorry for herself. In the best tradition of military wives since Thermopylae, her first thought was for others:

When 24-year-old Emily Dieruf learned that her husband of three months, Cpl. Nich Dieruf, had been killed in an ambush in Al Anbar Province, Iraq in April 2004, the blissful newlywed was devastated.

Initially after the tragic news, Dieruf and other family members decided to establish the Cpl. Nich Dieruf Memorial Fund in an effort to keep Nich’s name alive. The fund was to provide financial assistance to Marine families living in the Dieruf’s hometown of Lexington, Ky.

Through a family friend, Dieruf learned that another Kentucky based non-profit organization, USA Cares, was already helping support military families nationwide. She met with a representative from USA Cares and they both decided that the two funds would work together to accomplish the same mission.

tear.jpg And as so often happens, though nothing can bring her husband back, helping others has helped this young widow make some sense of her grief:

A communications major, Dieruf felt at home speaking to women she had never met before.

“It’s amazing to see the puzzle pieces of your life fit together, because when I entered college as a freshman, my major was undeclared,” Dieruf said. “I just happened to take a communication course and loved it, so I took another. And obviously that is exactly what I was meant to study because I am now in a position where I use my communication and public speaking skills quite often.”

Dieruf did not get to spend much time with her husband, but that is exactly why she travels, telling her story.

“People need not forget about our fallen soldiers, their sacrifices and the families who are affected,” Dieruf said. “When Nich was killed, I vowed that I would not let him become a mere number or statistic. I live everyday honoring his memory and sacrifice, just like all of those others who fell before and after him.”

Staying true to her word, Dieruf, along with USA Cares, has helped more than 2,000 families by providing or locating over $1 million in financial support. Dieruf’s speaking engagements help military wives by making a sensitive topic more real for them. Many do not like to speak about war and death, but Dieruf sets the stage for honest discussion among the women of her audiences.

“Other military wives react with great sympathy and horror. I represent a harsh reality for them,” she said. “But, overall, everyone has been extremely supportive and understanding.”
Although Dieruf was only able to enjoy her marriage with Nich for a brief moment, she will continue to honor her husband and his legacy.

loading_up.jpg “My husband whole heartedly believed in what the United States is accomplishing in Iraq and Afghanistan and so do I,” she said. “He would write me letters about how the women and children of Iraq would thank the troops for coming to liberate their desperate country.”

We hear so much in the media that is negative. How people are not coping with loss. How our military families have been traumatized beyond healing by war. And I would not for one moment wish to minimize their loss or their pain.

But what the media do not understand and refuse to convey to the American public is the incredible power of the human spirit to triumph over tragedy, to wrest hope from despair and find strength in the darkest of times. They truly do not understand our military families: the ties which bind us together, the values which sustain us, and the character that ensures that we will go on, no matter how tough things may seem to those who are determined to present only the bad news.

A year ago I was fortunate to attend a talk by General Mattis. He told a story, the details of which I will undoubtably get wrong but the gist of which is this: there was a crash in Afghanistan, I think it was a helicopter but to be honest I attended the speech after work and had a horrible migraine so the details have grown murky.

One of the pilots who was killed had a young bride who was pregnant. Obviously they unit needed replacements, and fast, so back on the homefront (in the midst of grieving for their lost friends) everyone was scrambling to deploy the needed men and equipment quickly. Farewells are always tearful events, especially in wartime, and this one was made even more so by the knowledge that so many of their men had just died. Imagine the shock when a young, pregnant widow, newly bereaved, showed up with an enormous batch of brownies to bid farewell to the departing Marines.

They need not have been surprised. I have seen this kind of grace again and again in over two decades. The Marine Corps breeds its own steel magnolias: gentle, gracious, loyal, but with hearts as strong and brave as the men they love.

buds.jpgIf you have a moment this weekend, stop for a moment to reflect on the kind of men and women who serve this great nation. We owe them so very much.

Then stop by Emily's site and give generously.

In cooperation with USA Cares, the parent charity for Cpl. Nich, Emily's foundation has saved 26 military owned homes from foreclosure and assisted in various ways over 2000 military families with quality of life crises such as mortgage payments, utility bills and even groceries.

She can give grants for quality of life crises up to $750 and for mortgage issues, the grant can be up to $7500. Her foundation has raised over 1.2 million dollars to assist military families. Please help this worthy cause - America's military families deserve all the support we can give them.

And here's another way you can support the troops - WHILE GROCERY SHOPPING!

Some grocery stores will donate up to 5% of your bill to wounded troops - check out the link to find out how you can sign up.

Thanks to Carrie again for everything.

**old joke: in the Marine Corps when you make Major everyone wants to see your lobotomy scar. By the time you get where our husbands are everyone pretty much assumes you're flat-lining. And hey - the big dummy hasn't dumped me yet, so it may well be true.

Posted by Cassandra at April 8, 2006 10:11 AM


I love the picture of the soldier who appears to be feuling up the donkey. Very funny.

Posted by: JJJet at April 8, 2006 11:44 AM

P.S. I know it's water he is giving to the Iraqi.

Posted by: JJJet at April 8, 2006 11:45 AM

"Semper Fidelis" is a motto to live by, to be sure. It's a shame that some people fail it; but the ones who do live up to it are a glory to us all.

Posted by: Grim at April 8, 2006 02:25 PM

PS to Cass...
Will read your post (absolutely loved it too) but was troubled by something you wrote and asked me if he "had to sleep with one eye open from now on..?"

I just smiled.

Posted by: Carrie at April 8, 2006 04:14 PM


Posted by: spd rdr at April 8, 2006 05:31 PM


Nah. FWIW, we attended my friend's husband's retirement ceremony. They have been married longer than we have (scary thought, that) and he retired with over 30 years in. If she didn't knock the old guy off, I guess I have no excuse :)

Besides, I love him too much. You know the drill.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2006 05:42 PM

I meant "WOW."

Anything else would probably get me embarassed.

Posted by: spd rdr at April 8, 2006 05:50 PM

Kind of humbling, isn't it?

I felt about 2 inches tall after reading this.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2006 05:53 PM

My original comments disappeared and only the PS remains. (the PS was my second comment...)
Let me reiterate that only you could do this the justice it deserved. I am eternally grateful that you chose to write about Nich, Emily and the foundation. You, as always, put into words what my heart feels.
Emily embodies what I'd like to be when I grow up (if I ever do). My mom used to tell me that "pretty is as pretty does", meaning that what you are on the inside is as important (or more) as how you look on the outside. I know two women who are
as pretty on the inside as they are on the outside
and I have never met Cassandra. I do know that she's beautiful just like Emily.

Your comments about the Marine Corps family ring true as well. I have never met a finer group of women, now proudly called family, than the ones that I have met as a Marine Corps wife.

Posted by: Carrie at April 8, 2006 06:18 PM

You girls are a bunch.

Posted by: spd rdr at April 8, 2006 06:29 PM

Carrie, if you ever grow up I will never speak to you again... :) I have got to drive down there sometime and meet you. But I'm wearing a paper bag over my head so I don't scare you to death !

And if I ever decide to brown racks of lamb again on top of my stove, please kill me. I have olive oil all over my kitchen. But it smells heavenly.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 8, 2006 07:39 PM

Thanks for the tears, darlin'...they're the good kind.

Posted by: camojack at April 9, 2006 01:37 AM

I remember when Nich was KIA like it was yesterday. Da Grunt and the boys were dancing in the streets of Fallujah and the guys out West were closing the ratline of foreign fighters pushing in to join the battle. For some reason Nich caught my attention. I believe that he was brought up in one of the many discussions on Wretchard's site or maybe Roggio's. As it related to his unit or tactical deployment I think. We've lost so many and you do them justice Cass!

You nailed the major theme in short order as to the strength and commitment of you Marine wives: CHARACTER. And God Bless you for it! :-)

Still doesn't mean that I won't call you Sugar Britches though! :-o

Damn fine post Lady Fair!

Posted by: JarheadDad at April 10, 2006 12:07 PM

Still doesn't mean that I won't call you Sugar Britches though!

Good Lord, man. You do know how to make me laugh... :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2006 12:14 PM

Sadly, Nich caught the attention of Fred Phelps as well.
Thank God that post was eventually taken down.

Been busy lately?

Posted by: Carrie at April 10, 2006 12:25 PM

Heh. Another difference between the Marines and the Army (no, the wives are pretty much mirror images - as is true of the Air Force, Navy, and I assume, Coast Guard) it's the luxury thing.

In the Army, you get your lobotomy at CGSC - almost always as a Major. The luxury kicks in at the War College - that's where they install the window in your stomach so you can see with your head up your ass.

Apparently you Marines still rely on echo-sounding or something.

Don't even try to tell me it's because you don't suffer from RCI*. I've worked with too many Jarheads to buy that line.

*Rectal-Cranial Inversion.

Posted by: John of Argghhh! at April 10, 2006 12:45 PM

Humor is what makes life bearable Cass. So I'm told! ;-)

Hey Carrie, yeah, been real busy. From KC to Chicago to IN and back again. Got a new baby granddaughter thrown into the mix as well. Black hair and dark eyes like that idio... er... wonderful youngest son of mine. All the rest are blondes and light eyes. Kids named her Peyton Elizabeth. Interesting name.

Plus fishin' season is in full swing. Gotta' make a livin' somehow! heh! Fished a two day on Guntersville (Alabama) last weekend with the oldest son. Good enough for rent money anyhoo. Nothing like five foot seas in a bass boat. A real buttcheekpuckererupper! :-o

Fred Phelps will burn in Hell. Hopefully sooner rather than later! :-(

Funny how I remembered one of your I MEF guys like that. Although I guess I've gotten to know a lot of Hollywood Marines in the past number of years. They're the ones that get all the ribbons and medals and stuff! LOL! There's a pool on whether the Warlords will even make the movie or not. I think it's up to about 300 bucks now. Want in? LMAO!

On a semi-serious note, ever Google Fallujah, Iraq April 2004? Read the wikipedia on it. It blew me away to know we had such a strategic loss and had our heads handed to us. Who knew? Man! it's a good thing there are eggspurts out there to tell us what the boys really did. Whew! I might have listened to the guys that were actually there and lost all perspective on just how much a defeat it really was! heh!

Posted by: JarheadDad at April 10, 2006 04:06 PM

Black hair and dark eyes...

Oh.. so she's going to be a beauty!

Heh. *running away* :)

Posted by: Cassandra at April 10, 2006 04:10 PM

Heh! I just got the connection! You better be runnin'! :-)

Shoot, if she develops a mind like yours then she'll be good to go! Her Granny will see to it. We all know the brains in any family belong to the better half! But y'all couldn't live without all our male adoration and ...uh.... attention. Yeah, attention! That's it! ;-)

Beautiful little girl for sure. Sweet Pea! She's so opposite her sister, Little Bit, that it is a stark contrast. Just like our brilliant common senseless College Boy and his more rational siblings. You know, come to think of it, I was gone eight months of the year back then. Hmmmmm! ruh-roh!

Posted by: JarheadDad at April 10, 2006 04:27 PM

Nich's oldest brother here. Appreciate the article, very well written.

In regards to sending money, it does help the cause. However, spreading our message with your voices is just as important, if not more important, so that we can reach as many people as possible. There are a lot of people whose families aren't actively involved in protecting our freedom that I would like to see sending the majority (if not all) of the money. Military families have enough to worry about anyway.

Thank you for the kind words Carrie, and best wishes to all of you. It always feels good to see people take notice of what we are accomplishing.

Posted by: Charlie at April 10, 2006 05:02 PM

Sorry for your loss Charlie but know that Nich is standing post on the Streets of Heaven. His sacrifice did not go unnoticed nor was it in vain. We will remember him forever.

If it is any comfort, I honestly believe that the average citizen has learned more and taken notice of just what kind of sacrifices Marines like Nich have made and continue to make. For the first time, in my lifetime anyway, I have seen more interest from our communities into the very lives of young Heroes like your brother. Hopefully I'm not simply looking through rose colored glasses but the support we have received from areas never expected has been nothing short of amazing. And appreciated.

God Bless you all.
Fair Winds and Following Seas.

Posted by: JarheadDad at April 10, 2006 05:57 PM

One of my chief complaints is that this administration has not "sold" the war the way that other wars have been sold. No victory gardens, no war bonds, no real endorsement of public involvement for this war. I support the administration for the most part but I fault them on this issue. We need to get the civilian community involved.
Still, the milblogger community is strong and tight.
Cass and Deb at Marine Corps Moms do their part as do others like John of Castle Arghh and Matt at Blackfive, in spreading the word of the military community. I'll send Emily an email of milblogger links for you so that you can see that for yourself. It's amazing what this community does.

I never had the honor of meeting Nich. Most Corporals don't like getting the attention of the C.O.'s wife for any reason, good or bad, and I understand that. Still, I am a lesser person for not meeting your brother. I wish I had.
Meeting Emily, her parents, grandparents, and your mom and dad was a great honor for me. What an incredibly open, warm, and proud group of people.
My husband and I always say that we wished we could have met all of them under different circumstances. We wished we could have met Nich's brothers that day too. From what I hear, Nich was the small fry. Your dad smiled at that comment and confirmed it for me. I'm 5'6" on a good day so I was impressed.
Last, your sister in law, Emily, is a force of nature and I consider her one of "my girls".
Nich had superb taste, that's for sure.
If Will and I can be of any service to you, please don't hesitate to let us know.
You're never going to wear out the welcome and you're never going to become an irritant.
We are family.

Posted by: Carrie at April 10, 2006 07:31 PM

Cass, you are absolutely right about the bond Marine Corps wives share and it transcends rank and status.
Not only that, I have been lucky enough to be included in that bond wherever we have been stationed. Army wives do have that bond, but not to the extent that they do. I have learned a thing or two thanks to all of you.

Posted by: Cricket at April 11, 2006 09:13 AM

I dont really know what to say my fiance is a marine and him being away is the hardest thing that I have ever had to deal with I was just wanting to see how other women deal with this, instead of just crying all the time. Thanks.

Posted by: Jaci at April 17, 2006 02:38 PM

Jaci, the best advice I can give you is this: you can look at the fact that he is gone as a bad thing, or as an opportunity. This is going to sound really corny, but I think the best thing about military life is that if you approach them right, the challenges you face make you a stronger, more confident, better person. That doesn't make them easy, but it does mean that eventually you will become the kind of person who faces whatever life hands you with confidence, and that is really a priceless gift.

I grew up in a Navy family and my Dad was gone all the time. My daughter in law is not even military and her stepfather was a mill worker. He traveled, and so he was gone all the time too.

When I got married, we had our children right away before any of our peers, so when the guys were gone, the other wives my age were newlyweds with no children. That meant that they could generally go places together and do fun things together, while I already had a three year old and a newborn baby.

So I invited people to my house. I had parties. And I got involved whatever was going on, because if I didn't I'd be left out, not on purpose, but just because I didn't have as much in common with the other girls. That was kind of hard because I'm not the most outgoing person in the world.

If I got lonely or bored, I'd look for another wife (or in your case maybe a fiancee) who was also bored or lonely. Are you near a base? They probably could use some volunteers. Navy/Marine Corps relief is something a lot of people do, or some people work at the Thrift Shop on base. Usually the family service center can tell you what's available. If you can't get on base (no ID card!) try going online to see if anyone meets out in town or calling them on the phone.

You don't have to limit your options to the base either. Try volunteering out in town, take a class, or pick something you've always wanted to do and set some goals for the time he's gone. One of my neighbors decided she was going to make herself over. She lost 25 pounds, joined a gym, and started walking with a group she found out about in the local paper. Before that she was basically sitting around feeling sorry for herself. By the time her husband got home, she looked like a million dollars and had a new job! Boy was her husband surprised.

I took piano lessons once when my husband was gone for a year. And I started running. Another time I learned to reupholster furniture and refinished a table and chairs. Basically, I always tried to keep myself busy and learn something new so I'd have something new to contribute to the relationship when he got back.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 17, 2006 02:59 PM

And don't get too discouraged! The important thing is not to give up if you have a bad day or things don't go well the first time you try something.

As I said, I'm not naturally very outgoing. You are not going to like everyone you meet (and not everyone will like you) but if you are friendly and cheerful and you make the effort, sooner or later you will find some people you enjoy spending time with and that will help pass the time until your fiancee comes home. Good luck - just start small. I used to make myself do one or two new things every day, even if they were just little things. I think you'll be surprised at how well it goes.

Posted by: Cassandra at April 17, 2006 03:07 PM

Don't know how to trackback to your page. I linked you here.

Posted by: FbL at May 12, 2006 10:10 AM

Well my husband is right now doing his MCT for 3 weeks and i must admit that the day he left i cried more than on the day he left to bootcamp! i am only 21 and he is 18 but i know we love eachother alot and thats why we got married! I cant help on feeling lonely and terrified of whats to come but I have always been supported of him and i will continue to be so as long as i love him! So for all the other wonderful Marine Wives I wish for peace in your heart and for strengh in your soul especially for the wives of those in Iraq! BE STRONG AND STAY FAITHFUL!

Posted by: Carla at February 22, 2007 03:35 PM

Oh Carla - I have been there so many times! We all get a bit scared when they leave. But the time passes, and it's good for you to be on your own. It forces you to develop your own strengths - and you will be a more interesting person for having been apart.

Men get bored with the same thing all the time. In so many ways, being apart is a blessing. Let him go, and he will will come back to you time and time again:

Through space and time
Always another show
Wondering where I am
Lost without you

And being apart ain’t easy
On this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy
Of rediscovering you
Oh girl, you stand by me
I’m forever yours

Posted by: Cassandra at February 22, 2007 03:55 PM

i'm engaged to marine. the engagement is difficult. we met when he was inactive and contemplating not re-enlistment. however i'm come to the conclusion that i will be a marine wife. the marriage seems overwhelming at this point. i'm not accustomed to being without him for long stretches of time. until he was transfered and reactived we were always together. now we are always apart. the abscence has to make me stronger, us stronger. or it's going to break us.
it's good to see this website. it makes me feel a lot better about what our family is going through.

Posted by: tp at August 1, 2007 01:01 AM

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