We have to have hope


“I grew up in Fallbrook, a small town north of San Diego. My dad was in the Marine Corps and was stationed at Camp Pendleton. My dad wanted to serve his country, and my mom volunteered for different organizations. They instilled this idea that you can always do something for somebody else. I think that’s what drew me to nursing. Once I did my pediatric rotation, I thought, ‘This is something I could wake up every day and do for the rest of my life.’ I came back to California after college graduation to work as a nurse. My dad was on terminal leave from the military and was supposed to retire from the Marine Corps on August 1, 2004, but in June of that year he started having focal seizures. They diagnosed him with a brain tumor two months later. He had about two years of treatment and then passed away, in 2006.

“I went out with some girlfriends one night to this little Irish bar, and I met Nick, a Navy helicopter pilot. His friend had tapped me on the shoulder and Nick said hi. I was not in a place where I wanted to meet someone, and I shut him down so quickly, with one word answers. ‘How are you doing?’ ‘Fine.’ But he was just so nice. I gave him my number, and as we were leaving the bar, I told my girlfriends that if I turned around and he was looking at us, if he called me, I would actually call him back. And I turned around, and there he was, waving to me. And we’ve been together ever since.
“We got married at an old Navy training boot camp, in a consecrated chapel that we had to get special permission to actually have our wedding in. Our reception was at the restaurant where we had our first date. I wish he could have met my dad, but in so many ways, Nick reminds me of him. My dad loved his family, and his wife and kids first. He always made his decisions based on what was best for us, and Nick is the same way. Just a family man. And a good man. He has this ability to love people the way they need to be loved.

“Becoming a mom was amazing. When Madilyn was born, I remember them handing me this baby, and I could see her little eyes, and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this is my baby on my chest. This is our baby.’ And it almost took my breath away. With our second baby, Jaxson, we knew what to expect, so we weren’t as nervous. But there was something about having a boy that was really emotional for Nick. Having a son was a completely different experience for him, so I looked over and he’s just bawling. He is the best dad. He really is.

“After taking some time off to be a mom, I started working as an oncology nurse at an infusion clinic because it worked better with having a family. It’s difficult, in that a lot of these adults have terminal disease, and you know that, but when you’re treating them that’s not what you see. You see … I’ll just throw a name out … you see Diane, and you talk to Diane, and that’s what you see in the chair. A person. You don’t see stage 4 lung cancer. Ironically, I enjoyed it.

“A month ago, I had planned to take the kids to Disneyland, and Nick was going to meet us there. I had gone to bed and had pretty bad abdominal pain, but I thought it was just heartburn. It got worse overnight, and I ended up in the ER. Being a nurse, I had self-diagnosed myself with gallstones. In the ER, they started doing tests and I could tell something wasn’t right. They would do a test and I’d wait forever for a result and they’d say, ‘We need to run another test.’ Three tests later the doctor came in and said, ‘We think you have something on your pancreas, but we aren’t sure. You need to follow up with your physician,’ and then he gave me a copy of the report. I poured over the results for three days.

“We followed up with my doctors here, and they thought I was fine but set me up with a gastroenterologist, and that’s when I started to have some fears, because I felt like he was worried. He ran another test, and the next day called me, and he said, ‘I’m sorry to tell you this, but your imaging is a classical presentation for carcinoma of the pancreas, and we think you have something called adenocarcinoma. And being an oncology nurse, I had treated patients with adenocarcinoma, and I knew what that outcome meant. I don’t remember everything I said, but I do specifically remember saying ‘I know what this means,’ and repeating that. And crisis thinking took over and I just remember knowing I had to get off the phone and call Nick.

“I called Nick sobbing and said, ‘You have to get home right now, they think I have cancer.’ And so he rushed home. And I called my mom, and I still feel so bad about this, I was on the floor and was sobbing and told her on the phone ‘I’m going to die, and I don’t want to die, but I’m going to die…’ and you know this is a woman who has already buried her husband and now her child is calling her and telling her she’s going to die… but in that moment those were the only words I could find.

“Initially we thought it was adenocarcinoma, which with some patients only gives them weeks or a few months to live, and I was literally walking around thinking it was the last of everything. Going to the kids’ school, thinking, ‘I don’t know if I’ll see this person again, or experience this again.’ And looking at my kids – they’re 4 and 2 – and thinking, ‘I can’t leave you here. Who is going to hug you when you need your mom? You need your mom. Kids need their moms, and their dads, too, and I need them. I would put them to bed and frantically write these letters, ‘Open on your first day of kindergarten; open when your friend is being mean to you,’ frantically trying to do all these things and also take them to school and not totally lose it.

“We walked around for about three weeks thinking that I was going to die really soon. But we believe in the power of prayer, and in the absence of having any medical treatment options available we asked people to pray for us. We have so many prayer warriors. We finally got a biopsy scheduled and I had surgery, and last week I got a call saying we finally had some good news. It’s not adenocarcinoma; it’s a neuroendocrine tumor, which means we hopefully have some options back on the table. When Nick and I got the call, we sat and cried. Because we finally have some hope. The reality is, this tumor will take me from Nick and the kids. It has spread to my liver and it is terminal cancer, but I still have so much hope, and I still want so much more time.

“I have a grateful heart. If they call me tomorrow and tell me I don’t have options, I will still be grateful for my life. I want people to know how much I love my family. I am grateful for all the blessings the Lord has given me. I love my husband and my children fiercely. I would and always will fight for them. I believe in Heaven, and Jesus, and redemption, and I do believe I’ll go to Heaven, and I do believe I’ll see my dad there, but I just don’t want to go yet. I’m 37. We still don’t have all the answers for treatment, or what comes next, but I will never stop fighting for my husband and my kids. We still have to have hope.”

Our beloved fans and readers: All of the stories that we share on Humans on the Homefront have a special place in our hearts. This one in particular hits especially close to home as this woman, Esther, is one of our founder’s (T. T.) dearest friends. Please help us support this amazing military family in their hour of need by sharing this story, donating to the Go Fund Me established for them, and keeping them in your prayers. Every little bit helps. Thank you and God bless.

https://www.gofundme.com/hope-for-esther

He did this for the country, but especially for his children.

“Israel was my hero. He was my life. And it’s not just because we loved each other … of course that was the biggest thing.

 
“I was assaulted and molested my whole life, until I was 18. When I met Israel, I was in a very abusive relationship. Israel was literally my savior. He saved me. He taught me what love is. After we had Israel Junior, he taught me what a father is. He was my hero way before this story happened.
 
“Israel’s sister Corina and I were best friends, since the 4th grade. We came from similar households. We were bullied because we were poor. We didn’t talk about our families. I remember her mentioning that she had a brother, but it wasn’t a big deal.
 
“My brother was graduating from boot camp and my parents left me home alone, so Corina came to spend the night with me. She had to pick up her paycheck from Sonic, and I went with her. And I saw this gorgeous behind in the window and I asked her, ‘Hey, who is that?’ and she told me it was her brother. I asked her why she never told me her brother was so cute! She gave him my number and he called me. I was in such an abusive relationship at the time and was trying so hard to get out of it. Israel was just what I needed. As soon as Israel called me, we went on a date. I remember it clearly. We went to Johnny Carino’s Italian restaurant here in town and went to see the movie Bedazzled. It was perfect after that. It was so perfect. He had such a goofy, great sense of humor. He’d stick his finger up my nose while I was trying to drive and would do anything to make me laugh. He would annoy me on purpose, but he also had this morbid sense and would say, ‘You will miss this if I’m gone.’
 
“We fell so in love, very quickly. We moved in together only 2 months later and got married so fast after that. There were rumors that it must be because I was pregnant. But actually I didn’t get pregnant until a month or two after we got married. We would talk about it all the time — Israel couldn’t believe that people just didn’t believe in love anymore! It didn’t have to be something scandalous. We just knew. We were young and so in love.
 
“Israel had talked about joining the military, and when my older brother Manny came back from Marine boot camp, Israel was like, ‘Oh man, this is what I want to do.’ I found out I was pregnant in March 2001 and that’s what really made him decide he had to do it. I remember asking Israel, ‘Why? Why now?’ because he had a really good job at Sonic as a manager, getting paid very well. I asked him why he wanted to join when he had it good there. And he told me, ‘I want to do something that my kids are going to be proud of. I don’t want to be known as a burger boy. I want them to be proud of me.’ He joined the Army, and we had this little party for him. It was the end of August 2001, and I remember him joking around, and even saying, ‘With my luck a war is going to break out.’ Two weeks later, 9/11 happened. I was so young and naïve and didn’t understand how it mattered to us in Texas. But when he came home that night, it hit me. We were just starting our family. But even then, you just think, ‘Not our family. Not us.’
 
“I had Israel Jr. when Israel was in boot camp. He came back for his R & R for 2 weeks and he took care of the baby like a champ! I was just out of the hospital. I was so tired and still had stitches, and Israel was so happy to get up in the middle of the night with Junior. It was crazy to me, but he just loved every minute of it. He wanted to hold him and feed him and he just loved that about his kids. He would truly cherish the time that he had with them.
 
“I had our second baby, Michael, in December 2003. Israel left for deployment in March 2004. I had a 3 month old and a 2 year old. It was Israel’s very first deployment. Even the night before he left we had no privacy. My brother had deployed to Iraq two weeks before Israel left, so I moved in with my brother’s wife, Melody. We wanted to be there for each other and start a Sunday ritual of going out for the kids. The night before he left, Israel and I talked, and it was somber. I can’t even explain it … just sadness.
 
“We went to go drop him off. That morning, his dad was with us. Israel was so happy his dad was there. His dad was his best friend and had a love for him like no other. I remember Israel having to do some stuff with his platoon that day and it was all just kind of a blur. I regret so bad having to come home from that early. Michael was crying and Israel told me it was okay to go home. We gave our hugs and our kisses, and he told me he loved me and he let the boys know how much he loved them. Even then I thought everything was fine … that he would come back home. Going home from that drop off was the hardest thing. Not knowing if I would ever see him smile again, or hold our kids. And even though I was going home to my sister-in-law, I just felt so, so alone.
 
“He called a week after that. They had stopped before going to Iraq, and he told me he would call me when he got there. It was a quick call, but then he called from Iraq on March 31, which was our 3 year anniversary. He said, ‘Hey babe! Happy Anniversary.’ He said he had literally just gotten off the plane. And I said I couldn’t believe he remembered, and he said he wouldn’t forget that. I remember him telling me he was tired. He said, ‘I had this dream last night. I was hugging Israel Jr. so tight and telling him I loved him. And I woke up hugging my rucksack and I was so pissed that I threw it. I wish I was there with ya’ll right now.’ And you know, before he deployed when we had the FRG meeting they told us to make sure we were always encouraging. So I tried to do that. And he wanted to talk to Junior, so he did, and then he wanted to talk to Michael. I laughed; Michael was only 3 months old. But I put the phone up to the baby’s ear and Israel was telling him how much he loved him and Michael was just making all these baby noises. We said our I love yous and he said he would call me on Sunday. I never got the call.
 
“The moment I woke up on Sunday (April 4, 2004), I thought something was wrong. We were supposed to have our ritual with my sister-in-law and the kids and I told her I really didn’t want to go. I told her I just didn’t feel good. That whole day I had this strong urge to make chicken curry, which Israel always made fun of me for making. It was in the afternoon, and I got a phone call from my mom, that the police department was looking for me. At the time I didn’t have my driver’s license and I thought it was about that, but it was still so weird to me. Then 15 minutes later my mom called back and said the FRG was looking for me. And I started to freak out. And my mom didn’t know what it was about, except that it was something about Israel coming home early. And I told her, ‘He can’t come home unless he is hurt or dead.’ And she said, ‘No mija. Don’t think like that.’ I let her go and you know I had just moved in with my sister-in-law so I was frantically looking for all the papers they had given us for emergency contacts. And while I was looking, we got a knock at the door.
 
“My sister-in-law answered it and when she turned the corner and said, ‘It’s for you,’ that’s when I knew. They asked me, ‘Are you Guadalupe Garza,’ and I said yes. And they asked if my husband was Israel Garza, and I said yes. And they said, ‘I’m sorry. Your husband has been killed.’ I couldn’t even feel my knees. I just dropped. And all I kept thinking was, ‘Why God? Why would you do this to my kids? Why?’ And I felt like someone had literally just dropped me in the middle of the desert and said ‘Find your way out. Find your way back home.’ I had based my whole life around Israel, and our future, and it was gone. It was gone just like that. And I remember holding Michael and Junior and just thinking ‘How am I going to do this?’
 
“The whole week after that was a blur. I remember signing paper after paper – ‘Miss Garza just sign here, sign here’ … I had no idea what I was signing. I do remember Israel’s sisters Corina and Cassandra and his dad coming there the next morning. I remember Leann Volesky (the Lieutenant Colonel’s wife) coming by. So many wives, a lot of the neighbors, so many people came by just to hold me. The military wives in that community were just the biggest support. The biggest. Because they knew exactly what it’s like to have a husband go over there and not know if he’s going to come back. I remember having one of the wives say to me, ‘You are my worst nightmare. To be a widow is the scariest thing to me.’ And I was. I was a widow at 21 years old. With two kids.
 
“I secluded myself after that to stay away from the military. I went to counseling – I’ve been going to counseling for 13 years. Several years ago I found T.A.P.S. (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) and that’s where I started to connect with the military again. I met one of my really good friends at a grief camp, and she – and all of them – feel like sisters to me. We have this huge bond. I am so thankful and blessed for T.A.P.S.
 
“I vaguely remember Martha Raddatz (author of The Long Road Home) calling me, and at the time I thought it was maybe another wife wanting to talk and hear our story, and wanting to write about it, but I didn’t really think much of it. And then my brother called me a year or two later and said, ‘I’m reading this book. It’s Israel’s story, and you are in it.’ And then I remembered talking to Martha. And I went out and bought the book. I only knew about Israel’s injuries and how he died, physically, but I didn’t really know the story or what had happened to him. I read it chapter by chapter. It is so intense, so I had to put it down after each chapter. It did bring some closure. At least I knew why he went in. I can’t say it brought full closure, but it definitely helped.
 
“National Geographic had called Israel’s sister and she told me that they wanted to interview us as a family. I thought it was going to be for another article. When they told us they were going to make Martha’s book into a series, our jaws were open. And of course it immediately popped into my head about Israel and his guitar. He used to tell everybody that someday he would be famous. And I thought, ‘Oh my God. Israel, you are right. People are going to know your name.’ How sad it is that this is how, but he always knew something big was going to happen with him.
 
“I’ve seen the first two episodes of The Long Road Home. And what I’ve seen, with Jorge Diaz playing Israel and Karina Ortiz playing me, and all of the actors and actresses — they just did such an amazing — I mean a huge, huge, brilliant, perfect job playing all of us. And you can tell how much the producer, Mikko Alanne, cares about us, and getting it right. He wanted to make sure we were okay with the story and that he was telling it as truthfully as possible. I’m a little apprehensive about how my boys will take it because I only want them to remember the good about their dad. But I am so blessed. I want these kids to know that their dad did not die in vain. He did this for the country, but especially for his children. He truly is a hero.
 
“It’s been 13 years. I am definitely not the same person I was 13 years ago. Sadly, after Israel passed away I went into a big depression. But I am proud to say that 13 years later I’ve learned how to grieve properly, and how to accept things. The biggest thing I can do is keep Israel’s spirit alive for my boys. I tell stories about him, I take them to his grave whenever they want. We celebrate his birthdays and holidays. The biggest gift I got was his boys. I feel like Israel passed and his soul went into our children. They have his mannerisms and sense of humor and even look like him.
 
“Whoever said ‘Time heals all wounds,’ has never lost a loved one. It hurts just as much today, 13 years later, as it did that day. But I make sure his spirit is always with us. He was the love of my life. He was my hero. And we will never forget him.”
 
The Long Road Home, based on the book by Martha Raddatz, premieres on November 7 on NatGeo TV, and tells the true story of “Black Sunday,” the April 4, 2004 ambush that took the lives of Spc Israel Garza and 7 other American soldiers.
 
 

As crazy as it sounds, I enjoy the thrill of it

​“My cousin posted a picture of me on Twitter and Alonzo asked her who I was. He was in the military and in a fraternity. I wanted to marry him the day I met him. He was so honest and funny and disciplined. He had it together – had his head on straight, and I loved that. 

“The only person I knew in the military growing up was my uncle. He served 20 years in the Navy. We saw him every other year and I knew what he did was important. But beyond that, I didn’t know much about it. Alonzo was in the Army and it was scary to me to be someone who wouldn’t be around and was going to be in danger. I knew I loved him though. My love for him was bigger than my fears. He always gave me just enough info; never too much to be scared. I trusted him, I loved him, and we are doing it. We’ve known each other since 2010 and since then he’s deployed three times. 

“As crazy as it sounds, I enjoy the thrill of it. We don’t know where we’re going next year, but I’m excited for the adventure. I think the hardest part for military spouses is keeping their identity, and especially during deployment. You’re so concerned and consumed with being your spouse’s backbone — their rock — that it’s easy to forget to be your own person as well.

“So many things are decided for you by the Army. Where you live, when your spouse is home, when you can go on vacation. A friend of mine went to the courthouse to get married because they were up against a deployment. I couldn’t stop thinking about how many couples do that — even your wedding can be determined by the military. 

“I turned 29 this year and had an epiphany. We were in Gatlinburg and I decided to start a blog and website, and event planning business. I started it because I saw a need for military couples to have easy and accessible event contracts so that even with a deployment or PCS, you can create a wedding of your dreams with an affordable budget and a quick turnaround. 

“I had my own business when I was 11. I had business cards and I sold painted pottery and beaded keychains, andI loved planning events. I still do. I’ve come a long way since I was 11. Starting a business has been the hardest and most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. There have been so many hurdles and obstacles, but at the end of the day I can say, ‘I have a company,’ and that is priceless.”

http://www.marzonthemove.com

Holiday Guide!

This holiday season, Humans on the Homefront is producing an online Holiday Gift Giving Guide — featuring products sold only by veteran and/or military family owned businesses. We want to include your business — send a message to our Facebook page with your email address and business info, or email us at contact@humansonthehomefront.com and we will contact you. 

Give the gift of supporting a veteran or military family owned business — we promise to make it easy for you.

9/11 — We remember 

9/11/01 forever changed the fabric of our nation. For some, it ignited a spark to serve. For others, it only reinforced their decision to do so. But since then, we have remained at war — and that fear and deep resolve that Americans collectively felt on that Tuesday morning 16 years ago is something our service members and their families haven’t been able to exhale. We are still sending our loved ones into the night. We are still waiting to hear if they’ll come home safe. We sit with bated breath, holding our children, when we hear the news about another convoy, another ambush, another mishap… and all we can do is pray that we will be strong enough if The Knock is on our door. 

In the silence today, watch this video. Do something kind for a stranger or first responder. Fly your flag. Never forget 9/11, and please remember the men and women who continue to fight. 🇺🇸❤️🇺🇸

9-11 Sounds of Silence Tribute (Disturbed) from Cristiano Caletti on Vimeo.

He was everything you’d want in a son, really

What Gold Star families really need is for their loved one to be remembered. (2)“Jonathan was the youngest. He had four older sisters. We were both married before, but we were so close-knit for a blended family. We got married when Jonathan was only five, so as the youngest, he was brought up being able to hold his own. He played football, baseball, really all of the youth sports, and he especially loved lacrosse. But he also had this really artistic side. His fiancée, Brandy Carter, was an art teacher at Madison High, and they both loved to paint.

“When he was in high school, he really wanted a car. So he saved his money and bought a 1981 Camaro – he was kind of a renaissance man. We had so many problems with that car. We spent so much time tinkering with it. Jonathan had lots of different friends, from all different categories of life. Sports, arts… he was never influenced by anyone else; he really was one of those kids who just got along with everybody.

“When 9/11 happened, Jonathan wanted to do something. Our oldest daughter, Susannah, lost her best friend in the first Tower. There is a picture of her at the memorial at Ground Zero. It was a very personal occurrence for us.

“We’re pretty military oriented. Two of his grandparents were British Aviators in WWII, and both his dad and another grandpa were Marine Corps Officers. Jonathan looked around and found the Virginia National Guard Combat Engineering Battalion. The Virginia National Guard was the first created in the country. We thought it was great.

“In 2003 – 2004 Jonathan was deployed. Right before Christmas, there was a suicide bomber in Mosul. 11 soldiers were killed, and 3 from his unit. We heard about it on the news. He didn’t talk about it much. When he got home, he went back to school at Virginia Commonwealth University in the Engineering Program, and his unit activated again. He said it was what he signed up for; it was his duty to do it.

“I was on the phone with him one day while he was in training stateside, and he said he had a slight cold. He was never one to complain. The phone rang at 5:30 the next day and I was just getting home from work. Jonathan was in the hospital. The doctor said, ‘I have your son here, he’s very sick. His blood pressure keeps dropping.’ I called back at 9:00 and they still didn’t know what was wrong with him. They had just had shift change and they were medevacing him to the Mayo Clinic. Next thing I know, I was called at 10:30pm. He had died in the helicopter en route to Mayo.

“It was Meningococcal Meningitis. I couldn’t understand why on earth they didn’t know that before. It was a crowded training environment; he had a fever and a neck ache. We had so many questions. Jonathan was the acting Platoon Sergeant. I know he didn’t feel good, but he kept going because he was responsible for all of those kids. We heard from the governor of Virginia, the Commanding Officer of the Virginia National Guard and our community rallied around us. They handled this horrible experience with so much compassion and care.

“I never saw Jonathan quit anything. That’s just the way he did things. He was everything you could ask for in a son, really. He’d do anything for anyone. You’d see him in a uniform being a warrior and then 10 minutes later you’d see him with a paintbrush, painting. And he used to have people in stitches with his imitations. He did a really impressive Christopher Walken and a lot of Saturday Night Live skits.

“It’s been 10 years since Jonathan died. We miss him every day. But the community we live in has helped us through. Jonathan’s high school, Gonzaga, is known for their camaraderie and spirit, and we felt that when we lost him. The year after he died, the whole lacrosse team wore his number for the season. Vienna Youth Sports established a lacrosse scholarship in Jonathan’s name and present it annually at a banquet to a high school lacrosse player. And Jonathan worked as a trapper at the Bull Run Shooting Center when he was in school. They established an annual shoot in June called the Jonathan Forde National Sporting Clays Tournament.

“The last thing you want is for your child to be forgotten. What Gold Star families really need is for their loved one to be remembered. Do whatever you can to help keep their memory alive, keep their name alive. We are so grateful so many people remember our Jonathan.”

Just keep going 

  
“I was 6 when it happened. I was pulled out of school and there were a ton of people in the car and at the house. I didn’t know what was happening and people kept patting me on the back. I didn’t know what was going on. Everyone kept saying ‘I’m sorry for your loss.’ My mom and grandparents took me in a room and told me that my dad died in a helicopter crash. 

“I’m 9 now. My memories of my dad are fading, but I remember he loved to play with me. He was the one who wrestled with me and played legos. I don’t like to watch videos where I hear his voice because it just makes me feel bad, but I do like to hear stories from my grandparents and my dad’s friends – especially funny stories. I want people to remember him. I want them to remember his personality.

“I’m telling my story because I want people to know what I’ve been through and what kids who lose a parent go through. I didn’t like everyone telling me I’m sorry for your loss. But some of our friends came over and took me to the beach to play the day after it happened and that was good. I didn’t want to sit at home with everyone crying. I also want other kids to know how much we’ve been through. One day, I wore my dad’s hat to school and a kid took it off of me and was teasing me. I told him that it was my dad’s and to give it back, and he said, ‘I thought you didn’t have a dad.’

“I miss my dad every day. But if he wouldn’t have died, I would just be another face in the crowd. I wouldn’t have done anything special. I got to go on Air Force Two, I’ve been to special camps, and I get to do things with the Travis Manion Foundation. For other kids going through this, I would tell them: It won’t be so bad in the future. You never stop missing him. But just keep going.” 
This Father’s Day, this little guy is asking that you make a donation to the Travis Manion foundation in his dad’s name, Landon Jones. To donate, visit: https://donate.travismanion.org/checkout/donation?eid=134356

At the family’s request, all funds raised through that link will be earmarked for the Character Does Matter program through the Travis Manion Foundation. 

Picture taken by the Berkeley College Veterans and Gold Star Reflections project and used with the family’s permission.