I am trashing about in the bed and yelling "No….no….go away, leave us alone.” I bolt upright and realize where I am.
My husband Clark reaches over and holds my hand, "do you want me to get up with you?”
"No, I’ll be alright. You have to get up for work in a few hours. I’m sorry I woke you up. I am going to sit in the rocker for a little while, it will relax me.” I open my bible and read Psalm 22:24 "For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”
My nightmare is always the same, a warm summer night and a breeze catches the curtains on our bedroom window. The material flapping in the wind makes a sound like a sailboat and wakes me up. I look out the window and see car headlights in a distance coming down the road toward our house.
I am alone in the house and I wonder where everybody is. I see that the car is coming closer and walk out on to the front porch in my nightgown. There is no moon and it is the darkest of any night I can remember.
The car pulls up close to the front of our house and has its high beams on. Two tall men get out and stand in front of the car and all I can see is their outline. An incredible sense of fear grips me and I yell out, "Who are you, what do you want?”
One of the men steps closer and begins to talk; his voice gets louder and louder as I become more frightened. I leave the porch and start running down the road and the men begin to chase me. I run faster and faster but they keep getting closer. I trip and fall, they are getting close and I yell, "no….no….go away, leave us alone.” Just as they walk over to me and reach out, I wake up.
It was a year ago yesterday when two men really did drive up to the front of our house, it was much different than my dream but a moment I will never forget.
I heard the phone ring, "Hello”
"Sarah? It’s Barb down at the hardware store.”
Clark is a civil engineer for the county where we live in upstate
New York and we also have a small apple farm. The hardware store is the social center of our small community and Barb calls me every once in a while so I thought nothing of it.
"Hi Barb, what’s up?”
"I wanted to let you know that two Army officers just stopped by the store to ask for directions to your house.”
We have two sons and a daughter, our oldest son Paul is a college senior, our youngest child Erica is a high school student and our middle child Luke is in the Army. He is in
Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division from
"Did they say what they wanted Barb?”
"No, they just asked for directions Sarah. It didn’t seem like there was a problem but if you need help with anything let me know.”
I could sense the concern in Barb’s voice as I was trying to sort everything out. "I’ll let you know what this is all about when I find out Barb.”
"I am sure everything is fine, I’ll talk to you later bye.”
It was a beautiful spring day so I went outside on the front porch and sat in one of the rockers we have there. I was trying very hard to stay calm and knew there were many reasons why the Army would be visiting.
Within a few minutes I saw a car in the distance coming down our road and knew it was the two Army officers. The car got closer and I could see it was a government vehicle.
It pulled up in front of our house and two Army officers in dress uniforms got out and walked up to the porch and one said, "Mrs. Valley?”
I was so scared I could barely talk, "Yes…yes, I’m
Valley.” I looked carefully at both men; they had a forced smile on their face. "You’re here about Luke aren’t you? You are, I know it” Neither man said anything right away. Please one of you say something!”
The one to my right spoke first, "I’m Captain John Walters, the public affairs officer for your son’s regiment and this is Major Mark Sparrow, one of our Chaplins.”
Both men walked up the stairs and Chaplin Sparrow extended his hand. I started to slowly step backwards hoping I could some how get away from this moment. The back of my legs hit the rocker and I sat down quickly.
I looked up at both of them and started to cry uncontrollably. I shouted out "Oh dear god please don’t tell me Luke is dead….please don’t let it be that.”
Chaplin sparrow sat down in the rocking chair next to me and whispered softly, "Luke isn’t dead Sarah.”
"You didn’t drive all this way to tell me that my son is fine.”
"You’re right Sarah; we didn’t come here without a reason. Luke is alive but he was seriously injured and the doctors aren’t sure what the outcome will be.”
"This can’t really be happening. I didn’t want him to join, I was against it. I want to see my son; I want you to take me to him right now.”
"Luke is still in the Army hospital in
Iraq and won’t be moved until his medical condition is stabilized.”
"What happened to Luke, I want to know because you bastards lie about everything.” I didn’t know who was speaking those words. They came out of my mouth but it wasn’t me talking.
"Luke and another soldier along with two others in a separate vehicle volunteered to bring water and ammunition to an isolated outpost that had been under intense enemy fire. When Luke approached the outpost both vehicles were attacked.”
"What happen to the soldier that was with Luke?”
"He was killed when they came under attack.”
"So another mother is getting a visit like this and is being told her son is dead?”
"Yes, someone has spoken to his parents already.”
"Oh dear god please help us,” I pleaded
"Sarah is there a number where we can contact your husband?”
"Yes,” I handed the Chaplin my cell phone and said, "This is his number.” Chapin Sparrow briefly spoke to
Clark and told him who he was and why he was calling.
I spoke to
Clark and he was having a difficult time processing everything. His voice was trembling, "Do you know what happened?”
I was still sobbing and had a hard time talking; I told him what I knew and begged, "Please come home now.”
"I am leaving and will be home soon, I took the rest of the week off,” he said.
I asked Captain Walters and Chaplin Sparrow to come in to the house. We were sitting in the living room when
Clark walked in. I introduced him to both men and
Clark asked them ”when can we get an update on Luke’s injuries and his condition?”
Captain Walters responded, "Luke’s fellow enlisted men like and respect your son as do his officers, he was recently promoted to sergeant. His regimental commander Colonel Rocha has arranged for Luke’s doctor in
Iraq to do a satellite conference call tomorrow with
Drum’s senior medical officer, Colonel Travers to discuss his condition. You can meet with Colonel Travers in the afternoon and he will answer all your questions as best as he can.”
I was sitting next to
Clark holding his hand and he said, "We will be there, just tell us when and where.”
Chaplin Sparrow said, "I will call you in the morning and give you more information.”
I said, "We will be waiting for your call.”
Chaplin Sparrow stood up and told us, "I have talked to you both long enough to know you are both people with a deep faith. I prayed for Luke and both of you on the way here, it is in the hands of our lord and savior now.”
We walked both men out to the car and watched them get in the car and drive away. I knew Barb would be full of worry and called her back. When I told her what had happened she started crying and asked, "I am going to close the store, I want to come over Sarah.”
"I would like that Barb.” Clark went to Erica’s school and brought her home, she was crying when they pulled in the driveway. Erica ran to me and we held each other tight. Within an hour there were ten people at our house and they all wanted to help in whatever way they could. I called our oldest son Paul who attends a nearby state university; he arrived at the house two hours later.
There was this unbelievable feeling of energy generated by the gathering of those close to our family. Every adult in the house was a parent and were now caught up in a parent’s worst nightmare only this one was real.
Barb and another close friend Pam stayed after everyone else left, Pam and I cried and Barb was the strong one. Her husband, who was her boyfriend at the time joined the Army and fought in
Viet Nam. He was wounded and lost some good friends. Barb had some insight did the best she could to ease my worry.
It was late and I said goodbye to Pam and Barb. I walked out with them and sat in my rocker. Clark was upstairs and heard the screen door shut and he came downstairs.
I was sitting in my rocker when he came out on the porch, "It seems like such a short time ago I was out here rocking Luke to sleep. I wanted all my babies to stay close to their momma.”
Clark was in the rocking chair next to me, "They have to make their own way in the world I guess. Luke was interested in the Army since he walked behind them with the Boy Scouts in the Fourth of July parade.”
"I’m afraid about tomorrow Clark, what the doctor will say when we go up to
"I am too Sarah,” and he wiped the tears from his eyes. Clark is a strong man and the rock our family stands on. He loves all his children but sees so much of his self in Luke that they have always had a special connection.
Chaplin Sparrow called my cell phone about 9:30 the next morning and said, "Your meeting with Colonel Travers is set for 2:00 this afternoon. Come in through the front gate, the Military Police will direct you to Colonel Travers’ office.”
We had an early lunch and left around noon, it is about 80 miles from our house to the
North Country where Ft Drum is located. We arrived at Ft Drum at 1:35 and were escorted to Dr Travers office. We waited about ten minutes before he came out to get us.
"Mr. Valley, Mrs. Valley please come in to my office. We can sit at the table there on your right.”
We all sat down and I asked,”Do we call you Doctor Travers or Colonel Travers?”
"You can call me Doctor Travers. It is always difficult when I have to meet with family members under these circumstances so lets keep this as informal as possible.”
Clark said,” I am sure you know our primary concern is the condition of our son Luke, were you able to talk to his doctor in
"Yes, I spoke to his doctor; your son has a very competent doctor with many years of experience treating trauma injuries. Luke’s condition has been down graded from critical to serious. He is now stable enough to transport and will be transferred to
D.C. within a few days.”
"Oh thank god,” I grabbed
Clark’s hand. "What happened, what injuries does he have?”
"The fact that Luke’s condition was down graded is a good sign but your son sustained some serious injuries so I have to caution you that there is still reason for concern.”
"I asked again, "What happened and what are his injuries?”
"Luke and three other soldiers, one riding with him and the two others in a separate vehicle were attacked by an ambush as the arrived at the out post. Luke was driving and when he and the other soldier attempted to exit their armored vehicle and a mortar shell exploded by the right front door killing Luke’s passenger instantly.”
"What happened to Luke?”
"Luke was trying to get out of the drivers door when the explosion happened. The fact that he had the door open probably saved his life because the blast pushed him out the door but he didn’t get the full impact, the explosive force was dissipated.”
"It is all so random, if the other soldier was driving Luke would dead!”
"Yes Mrs. Valley, which is a good way to described it. Luke sustained a very serious shrapnel wound in his right thigh and nearly bled to death. The combat medic saved your son’s life by stopping the bleeding, while under fire. You owed a debt of gratitude to him.”
Clark said, "Is that his only injury?”
"No,” Doctor Travers replied. "Luke’s right ear drum was punctured and he has a concussion. Two bones in his right hand are broken and he has second degree burns on his neck and face. Because of his significant blood loss the first twenty-four hours were critical.”
I asked, "Is he going to be all right?”
"It’s too early to say for sure but I am optimistic that he will make a full recovery. In two or three months he should be fit for duty, until then he will be on medical leave.”
Three days after our meeting Luke arrived at
Hospital. A week after that we were allowed to visit him, I wasn’t prepared for how he looked. Luke had burns on his neck and face, he looked so skinny and had a cast on his right hand but he was alive and was able to hug us both.
A month later he was given a weeks leave and came home to a hero’s welcome. I asked Luke about the medic who risked his life to save my son. Luke gave us his name, rank and unit so we could contact him.
Luke didn’t say anything about what happened except for what the medic did. He told us bullets were hitting all around them while the medic was working on him.
The medic had a tongue depressor with surgical tape wrapped around it, stuck it in Luke’s mouth sideways and said,” Bite on this. I am praying to god both of us don’t get shot. He can’t hear me and I can't concentrate with you screaming!”
Four months after the day Luke was wounded his doctor classified him fit for duty. He has less than a year left on his enlistment and plans on getting out of the Army and attending the same state university his brother just graduated from.