From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul


Spirit is an invisible force made visible in all life.

Maya Angelou

It didn’t matter that rain droplets were falling, dampening my dress and hair.

I was in Hawaii. It was June 1968. The palm fronds danced, touched by the raindrops and the breeze, and my heart danced, too. I was waiting for my young husband— the love of my life—to alight from the bus to begin his R&R (rest and recuperation) from Vietnam.

The plan had been for a group of us to go to the Processing Center to intercept Denny, my in-laws’ only son. Pap, a former military officer, had figured out how to circumvent the military’s guideline that soldiers take cabs from the drop-off location to where their families were staying.

It was strange, but as we dressed that morning to leave the hotel, I felt glum. I wondered about it. Since Denny left for Vietnam, I had waited for this day, for the opportunity to be with him and hold him tight. And yet there I was—eager but also quiet, withdrawn, anxious. What was bothering me?

My mother-in-law, in her kind way, understood what I did not. “Honey,” she asked, “would you like to meet Denny yourself at the Processing Center, and we’ll wait here at the hotel?”

My father-in-law was outraged at her suggestion. “No! Of course not,” he exclaimed. “We’re all going together!”

She urged him gently. “Let her go herself. They’re a married couple now. We’ll see them when they get back to the hotel.”

It was yet another kindness when my father-in-law acquiesced to his wife’s suggestion. When I realized I would be going alone to the Processing Center, my spirits rose, and I felt happy, even elated.

Off I went, too early, really. I dutifully stood near a sign that stated: Family Members, This Area Only. Obviously, they anticipated that others would find out where the men would arrive.

Then came a third kind gesture, this time from a stranger. A workman approached and asked if I was waiting for the bus arriving from the airport.

“Yes, I am,” I replied. The workman left.

Twenty minutes later, he returned.

“The plane has just arrived,” he told me. “After they board the bus, they’ll be here in about thirty minutes.” I felt my stomach jump at his words.

“Thank you,” I said shyly.

“And,” he continued, “if you follow me over here, this is right where the bus will unload.” He gestured and started moving to another side of the building and then saw my hesitation. “It’s okay; come wait over here,” he said.

Even with the rain, I was not about to leave my specially assigned post. Looking down, I saw that my colorful flower lei was bleeding purple onto the white yoke of my sundress. But no matter. As I continued to wait, I was lost in my thoughts, feeling quiet and withdrawn once again.

Denny and I began dating in college; his senior year, my sophomore year. A year later, as the Vietnam War activity increased, he enlisted in the marines.

When it became apparent he would likely be sent to ’Nam, we decided to marry in March. We lived together in Quantico, Virginia, as he completed officer’s training. Denny was the first love of my life, and we treasured our six months together before he departed in September. During our eight-month separation, I pored eagerly over the letters I received from him. They were usually smudged with dirt and mud; he was experiencing heavy combat. I wrote him nearly every day.

But now I was afraid—fearful that I wouldn’t recognize this husband of mine. At home, I would look often at the photo of Denny posing in his military uniform and study the image again and again. I would search my memory for the moments we shared together, and hear his laughter, see his blue eyes, his broad shoulders, his smile. But this day I was fearful that perhaps I wouldn’t recognize the man I had chosen to marry and who was now a marine second lieutenant. I drew in my breath and felt anxiety rise inside me once again as not one, but three, buses stopped in front of me, one behind the other. The workman had been correct: the buses would unload directly in front of where I was standing.

My trepidation grew as, one by one, soldiers stepped down from each bus and began walking quietly past me into the Processing Center, where they would be debriefed and sent to meet their families.

I didn’t see Denny. As the soldiers continued to walk past me, I became afraid. What if Denny came down the bus steps and I was standing there empty of recognition, staring at but not seeing that the man in front of me is my precious husband? How will I find the face I so long to see, the face in the photograph?

And then he was there. The split second of recognition was so powerful, it swept through my entire body and being. And all it took was seeing a pair of boots and pant legs to the knees, waiting to descend the steps. I knew it was Denny—his stance, his legs, his feet in boots.

In that instant, I flew through the empty space between us, colliding with him as his first boot touched the ground. I hugged him, overcome by his presence and the realization that we were together again. Denny grinned and embraced me.

What was it that made me so powerfully aware of his presence? It was not his photograph or even the memories of our relationship that enabled me to recognize him.

What I learned that day is that the most powerful bonds we share with those we love deeply and everlastingly are not rooted in the physical. More than smiles, mannerisms and voices, we come to know the spiritual part of one another.

Denny’s very essence communicated to me that day in Hawaii. Denny’s spirit and his love shouted to me from the top of those bus steps. My recognition happened in an instant so fast I can’t describe it, and it happened because of the love that connected us.

Denny didn’t come home from Vietnam, and I have replayed in my mind many, many times the last days we shared in this world. And I know that, in the imperceptible dimension where love resides, Denny and I remain connected forever.

Judith Hodge Andrews Dennis
As told to Marjorie Kramer

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