By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"Well I'm not all for that sweet stuff. I don't even think I can word it the way that I want to word it. I love you and that's all you need to know. I love you because you are you. You learned not to care what people think about you. I love you because you are the mother of my one (and only) son. I love you because of all the BS you put up with me being in the Army.
"Not all wives can do it. Esp. single moms for the first year. You are one of the strongest, hardworking, most beautiful women I have ever met. Even though you were pregnant, you stuck through school because you wanted a better future for your family. I admire that! I miss you so much and I know you know that. I can't wait to come home and wrap my arms around you knowing that I'm safe. I can't wait to have that baby slobber all over me, and I'll even change a dirty diaper. I love you guys and can't wait to see you again. Bye babe! P.S. I took a pic for you and put it on myspace. I know you like the coveralls."
They talked on the phone that day too, since he and his guys had the day off and weren't doing any rounds. She put the phone up to Daniel's ear and Jonathan talked to him. When she got back on, Jonathan was upset. "Stacey," he said, his voice breaking, "Daniel doesn't even know who I am."
"Yes, he does," she replied. "You should see his eyes light up when you talk to him."
The next morning, Memorial Day, she stepped into the shower at her parents' house to get ready to run some errands. Over the running water she heard banging on the door. She rushed out in a towel and looked through the window to see two officers in uniform standing outside. He must be wounded, and he's at the hospital in Germany, she thought, her chest tightening. But if he were wounded, they would have called...Maybe they have the wrong address?
She opened the door.
"Are you Mrs. Markham?"
"On behalf of a grateful nation," one of the officers began, "We regret to inform you..."
Stacey fell on her knees. "No," she screamed. "I just talked to him yesterday. He wasn't even working yesterday."
The officers cried with her. The chaplain, a man close to her age, said he had a newborn at home. He played with Daniel while they all wept. Stacey's mother was in the room now, and the officers told them they didn't have details yet. All they knew was that Jonathan had been killed by a roadside bomb.
Later, his buddies would tell her that around midnight, they were called out to retrieve the bodies of some soldiers who died in a downed Kiowa helicopter. Jonathan, they told her, volunteered to go because some of the other guys were taking their time getting ready and "being wusses."
He was riding in a Bradley fighting vehicle's gunner position when the tank in front of his rolled over an explosive device and blew up. Jonathan and the others in his tank dragged their five comrades' bodies out of the fiery wreckage. Then they called back to post to say they wouldn't make it to the crash site. On their way back, they hit another explosive device.
"I think God knew he'd seen too much," Stacey would say later, her eyes welling up. "He'd just collected his brothers' bodies."
Stacey cried herself to sleep every night and went through the motions of planning the funeral. George Bush didn't attend the burial as Jonathan had requested—"He wanted the president to see the cost of war, to know that the men are not just numbers," she told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram after the funeral—but a four-star general came and spoke. The funeral seemed like a blur, as if she were in a waking dream.
She didn't leave the house for the next three months. Sometimes, she was so distraught that she couldn't bear to pick up her son. Her parents would cook for her and Daniel and take the boy, who was just learning to crawl, for walks.
Months later, the wife of a soldier in Jonathan's unit gave Stacey the logbook he'd kept in Iraq. Most of the pages were filled with to-do lists and notes. "Conduct ourselves as professionals at all times," he scrawled, along with, "IED training tips: Don't hover over potholes; stay away from the edge." In the back of the green book, past a photo of his wife and a list of Arabic keywords, he'd begun a diary. Reading it, Stacey got a glimpse of her husband's unedited life in Iraq—a far cry from his calm, cheery e-mails. On October 20, 2006, he wrote:
"Well today is my first day in country. This place is horrible. We are about 600 meters from the enemy. There is nothing but sand, dirt, and rocks. I woke up this morning and heard the 240 B [machine gun] rocking away. What a way to wake up! Our guys are hanging in there pretty damn well. Me, I'm about as scared as can be. I worry about going outside the gates. I'm more worried about what's going to happen to me or my 'brothers.' I'm scared that I'm not going to make it home to my wife and my boy. I miss them so much...