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 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.
Five years ago
The first few days after they were married, as impulsive as it was, Jessica said they knew they hadn’t made a mistake. They “were inseparable” and had an “on-top-of-the-world kind of feeling,” she said.
They immediately started spreading the good news. Their families’ feelings were mixed.
“We got every reaction in the book. Negative and positive,” Jessica said. “Anthony called his mother right away as we were walking out of the courthouse. She disagreed with us getting married so young. My family, on the other hand, was overwhelmed with joy. My family supported our relationship right from the beginning.
“It was something Anthony and I leaned on, those blessings from my side of the family,” she said.
Two months later, Jessica moved back to California. The move was easier than expected. They had already been planning on her possibly moving in with Anthony soon. And, of course, they had each other.
“Anthony put it like this to encourage me. He said he would take care of me, and he wanted me close so nothing bad would ever happen to me. He loved me.”
Their timing in applying for base housing couldn’t have been more perfect.
“Normally the wait is six-to-eight months,” she said.
Anthony was somehow blessed with a one-month wait.
“I guess it was meant to be,” Anthony said.
However, the adjustment to married life was not as easy, especially for Anthony. He had a hard time accepting they’d have to be a team, that he couldn’t be the knight in shining armor he wanted to be for Jessica.
“He couldn’t afford his phone bill, but said he needed one so that his command could keep in contact with him. Once he told me that, I went job hunting,” she said. “Responsibility was like an instinct for me. I was going to take care of this man, no matter what.
“Finances was something he had trouble communicating with me. He did not want me to have a worry in the world. I told him it wasn’t fair to carry it all on his shoulders, which he did frequently. He finally spilled the beans about being behind on his truck payment. Once I got my first paycheck, we started to catch up on payments as much as we could. It was difficult at times.”
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