August 30, 2012

Love in War

Sgt. Heather Golden
Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms
Photo by Lance Cpl. D.J. Wu
Retired Cpl. Anthony Villarreal and his wife, Jessica, have been married for five years. More than half that time has been spent helping Anthony readjust to life after a June 2008 run-in with an improvised explosive device took away one of his arms, all of his remaining fingers and more than 80 percent of his skin.

Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center Twentynine Palms, Calif. — When you’ve practically lost yourself to a wartime attack, been set on fire, clawed yourself free of wreckage without all your limbs intact, your face, arms, legs, even your eyelids are burned away, and you have no idea how you lived through all this, you can’t just come home. This was what retired Cpl. Anthony Villarreal’s life is going to be like after a hidden pressure plate in Helmand province, Afghanistan, blew apart his vehicle June 20, 2008, with him still inside it. At the time, Anthony was deployed with 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.

Normalcy doesn’t mean what it once did. But luckily for Anthony Villarreal, normalcy does still mean coming home to a loving wife, one who stayed despite the trials she knew they’d face.

It’s been four years since the attack that almost cost him his life. This is his story. As told by her.

Last month.

Jessica Villarreal stood quietly, leaning on the wall to the side of the room, her hands folded in front of her. She wore frayed jeans, a white and gray shirt and black ballet flats. No bright colors. No jewelry stands out. She was a wallflower.

Anthony sat in a red leather chair tucked in the corner. He was wearing shorts, and the scars from his more than 70 operations and skin grafts were clearly visible on his face, up his legs and one remaining arm. A Texas Tech University baseball cap was on the table next to him. Texas Tech is a big deal for the couple. They are from the school’s hometown of Lubbock, Texas.

His right arm is missing from the elbow down. His left hand is there, but fingerless. This makes for potentially awkward situations when people instinctively reach out for handshakes. It is a fumble that happens all the time. It isn’t something that bothers him anymore. He chuckles about it, more closely resembling a big kid with a secret joke than a man with a serious disability.

Anthony and Jessica, all smiles during their dating years

Seven years ago.

Jessica’s first experience with the Corps wasn’t as a military wife. It was as a recruit at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, S.C. She began to talk about the injury that caused her to prematurely end her Marine Corps career, then changed her mind and offered up an abbreviated version instead.

“Technically I healed before I left, so I have an honorable discharge. To make a long story short, the Marine Corps just wasn’t for me, I suppose. Everything happens for a reason.”

It isn’t really a chapter in her and Anthony’s life together, but it is because of this experience that Jessica said she was in the right time, right place, to meet him. She more than once referred to him as “the love of her life” during the interview. Jessica enlisted out of her hometown recruiting station in Lubbock, and Anthony was also there. The same day he was fresh from his own boot camp graduation and was serving time on recruiters’ assistance at the station.

The couple is the same age. They have almost the same birthday, even. At the time, they were 18 years old.

For full story, visit Yuma.usmc.mil

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