Just in Case…..

Posted: November 29, 2010 in Editorial Comments


This was written in 2007, when I really wanted to write something else, and John Young encouraged me to write about this experience.  I have never regretted putting this to paper.


Mary Duty, guest column: Just in case it’s goodbye

Friday, September 14, 2007

I tell people that having a child deploy to a war zone is like childbirth.

The first time you read all of the books and talk to people who have been there. The second time, knowing exactly what is coming, you find yourself fighting fear, anxiety and pure dread.

Our son Caleb is a Marine and about to redeploy to Iraq.

During Caleb’s first tour, he was involved in community policing and relationship- building in a small town in the al-Anbar province. It was rough going at first. His batallion lost 15 fine young men to IEDs, suicide bombers and snipers.  However, Caleb met many wonderful, hardworking Iraqis who were anxious to get their lives back together, and their kids back in school. His unit was good at its job. After several months there, when the bad guys planted IEDs in the road that they used to drive into town, the locals turned the bad guys in and made them dig up the explosives. 

His stateside time is almost over, with a last weekend with family that was an extraordinary experience. Caleb told us all goodbye. We got a chance to tell him goodbye, too.  He gave us no choice but to embrace the moment that could be our last together. Just in case.

The night was dark. The bonfire was roaring. The music was playing loud from one of the pickup trucks parked on the edge of the clearing. Friends mingled.  Some have been buddies since kindergarten.  Boy Scout friends were there.  Some were fellow Marines. Even Patches, Caleb’s dog, made it.

As the time came for Caleb to leave, he went to his truck and punched in a song.

The soft, sweet melody of a fiddle filled the night air. Then the country rhythms of Tracy Lawrence’s “If I Don’t Make it Back” hit us all like a runaway freight train.

As we started listening, one sister begged him to change the song.  But Caleb wanted us to hear it.  He went around the party, shaking hands and hugging. We were all trapped in this experience hearing words we did not want to hear, saying things that we did not want to say. But we had to, just in case.

At one point, we all gathered in a circle. Shoulder to shoulder, like in a football huddle, Caleb, his brothers and sisters and I gathered.  Silently we stood, drinking in the moment. Each prayed for Caleb in his or her own way.  I know that I asked for angels to watch over him and his comrades. And I prayed for God’s peace for Caleb and his brothers and sisters. Just in case. 

When our hearts were full, Caleb put his hand in the huddle, and one by one we laid our hands over and under his. Trapped in our embrace, he led us in shouting, “1-2-3 Duty!”

We broke the huddle, wiped our tears and finished saying our goodbyes.

At the tender age of 20, Caleb taught us all a lesson many never learn. The first time you go to war it is done with flags and banners and blind optimism. The second time you know that there is a chance that you might not be coming back. You live each day like you mean it.

Thank you, Son, for helping us say goodbye like we mean it.  Just in case. 

May God keep you until we see each other again.

Mary Duty is a Waco school teacher and co-owner of Poppa Rollos Pizza.


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