October 17, 2006 – a date that would normally celebrate our wedding anniversary, now and forever marks the date we received the news of the unthinkable – our only son, Josh, was killed by a single sniper’s bullet that morning in Haditha, Iraq. This was also the day that our family, now a “Gold Star Family”, was changed forever – killed just as surely by that same sniper’s bullet.
Josh was but a Freshman at the Citadel on September 11th, 2001 – a terrified “knob” embarking on this next phase of his preparation to become an Infantry Officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. He did not yet understand how that fateful day would forever change his future – but, his father and I did. We knew that a Military career in wartime would be very different and infinitely more dangerous – but, with 4 years of college and at least another year of training ahead of him, we never dreamed he would ever be deployed to Iraq – surely, the war in Iraq would end long before he would be in a position to go…..
Josh was commissioned into the Marine Corps as a Second Lieutenant on Friday, May 6, 2005, graduated from the Citadel with a B.S. in Criminal Justice on Saturday, May 7, 2005 and married his beautiful wife, Erica on Sunday May 8, 2005 – all on the Citadel campus. It was a whirlwind weekend that seemed like too much at the time – but, now, we realize what a wonderful gift it actually was. So many families like ours never had the chance to see their sons or daughters get married or experience the joy of watching them become parents. We got to see all of those things – though too briefly – we carry the memories with us every day. Nothing in my life has ever touched me like watching my “squared-away Marine” son on the floor acting like a complete idiot with his precious daughter, Grace. I could tell that Josh was finally where he belonged – living the life he was meant to live. Shortly before his deployment to Iraq, we received an email from him announcing that the second child they were expecting was a boy – complete with a copy of the ultrasound and the strategically placed arrows to show us the “proof”!
Josh and Erica were stationed in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii and loved it there. Josh had been given his first platoon to command and was hurriedly trying to get them ready for a September deployment to Iraq. We planned a trip to Hawaii to visit him before he deployed – 10 days of trying to cram in all of the time with our son that we could. We left Hawaii two weeks before his scheduled deployment to give Josh and Erica some time alone together – but, his deployment was moved up suddenly and they only ended up with a little over a week together. During our time with him, we could hear the gravity in his voice – he started having conversations with us about what he wanted us to do if he didn’t return… what his wishes and expectations were. Apparently, he told his father that he didn’t expect to return – he was going to a very dangerous region where the returning unit he would be replacing had suffered many casualties…and Josh believed in leading from the front – not the rear. It breaks my heart to know he felt that he was not coming back. When it came time to say goodbye at the airport in Hawaii, Josh hugged his Dad and started toward me and then suddenly turned around and got back into the car. He wasn’t able to say goodbye to me – my blood ran cold – I guess that was my first inkling that something dreadful was about to happen.
He had just starting receiving our packages in Iraq when he died – that’s how quickly he was gone. We couldn’t imagine him arriving into Dover AFB without his family to greet him, so his father drove like a lunatic to Delaware to make sure he could be there when they took him off the plane. It was so unreal – this was our son, who we had just seen – the mental movies of our visit still playing in our heads. How could this be? How could I actually be typing up his obituary on my computer? His wishes were that he be buried in a Booth family cemetery in Bedford, Virginia – a place he had visited and loved all of his life, but a place so very far from Sturbridge, Massachusetts, where we were left to grieve. We decided not to have the Marines fly him from Dover to Bedford for his funeral – we decided, instead, to make the same drive with him we had made with him so often throughout his life – following all of the same roads. Our daughter and her family met up with us along the way, joining the caravan. And then the most amazing thing happened. As we followed the hearse through the small towns along Rt. 29 in Virginia, police escorts appeared and took us through their town where another escort was waiting to take us through the next town and so on until we reached Bedford – where the Patriot Guard Riders and the Marines were waiting in silence for us at the funeral home. He had a Marine guard around the clock until his funeral 2 days later. The day of his funeral, the schools were dismissed early and the entire Town solemnly lined the streets for this Marine that they did not even know.
It has been a little over a year now, and I wish I could say that it has gotten easier. The amazing support for our son – from the Town of Sturbridge (they held a Memorial Service for him when we returned and just recently named a bridge after him – The Lieutenant Joshua Booth Memorial Bridge, where he used to fish as a young boy), from St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, (where the students, faculty and alumni collected money and enabled us to establish the Joshua Booth Childrens Trust)…. to Burgess Elementary School, that planted a tree and placed a plaque in their lobby…. to The Citadel who has honored him in ways too numerous to count…..from our local politicians, employers and coworkers, friends and neighbors who have shown such kindness and support…. to perfect strangers from all over the country who have sent cards and gifts to our entire family …. and, finally, to the U.S. Marine Corps that our son loved so much, that has wrapped its arms around us and kept us close. To all of you — how do we ever say “thank you”? It hardly seems enough. So, instead, I will say what I think Josh would have said…Don’t ever forget those that have served, those that have died and those that are still serving for our freedom. “Freedom is not Free”, Semper Fi and God Bless America.
Debra L. Booth
Proud Mom of 1st Lt. Joshua Loren Booth
P.S. to Josh – I pray every day to be granted even a small amount of your amazing courage. We promise to keep your family close and loved. We miss you. Love, Mom and Dad.