A Widow’s Salvation

A Widow’s Salvation

From Chicken Soup for the Military Wife's Soul

A Widow’s Salvation

The shadows of the evening run deep while love comes in to soothe every mind and body.


Catalina’s husband had been in Vietnam for almost a year. In the beginning, he had written to her faithfully— she would get a letter from him once a week. But the letters had stopped coming, and it had been nine long weeks since Catalina had heard from him. At home, Catalina was doing her best to keep the faith and manage the household of five young children on a small budget. Her hands were full, and her mind was worried.

Catalina had been married to Floyd Dean Caldwell for sixteen years, all of which he had devoted to the military. Raised in extreme poverty in Mexico, she met her husband-to-be while he was stationed in a border town in Texas, where she would cross the border to attend adult-education classes. They were a military family, and Catalina knew that the U.S. Army had been her salvation. The military had provided the means for them to feed, clothe and house their five young children.

It was their military lifestyle and benefits, while not extravagant, that had allowed them to get the medical attention they needed when Catalina was diagnosed with tuberculosis shortly after they married, and when their daughter was born prematurely with severe asthma. Military life had not only allowed them to support their family, but also to live in parts of the world that they might never have seen otherwise. Catalina had a great appreciation for all the ways in which her life and her family’s life had been blessed by her husband’s military duty.

When Floyd was sent to Vietnam, she prayed for continued blessings.

Then his letters stopped. After nine weeks of worrying and waiting, she contacted the Red Cross. In her broken English, she told the Red Cross representative about her concerns. The Red Cross contacted the U.S. Army, and an investigation was immediately begun as to his whereabouts. As if he had a premonition that something might happen to him, Floyd had left all his military papers in an envelope for Catalina to use in case of an emergency. These papers began the investigation that would reveal the unthinkable.

It was discovered that Floyd Dean Caldwell had boarded a U-21 aircraft in Phu Bai Airfield in South Vietnam on December 14, 1971. He had gotten his orders to go home and had hopped an early flight with hopes of getting to his family as soon as possible. He was not scheduled to board that plane, but an officer in front of him in line had said, “Go ahead, take my place; you have a family to get home to. I’ll take the next one.” That fateful generosity placed my father, Floyd Dean Caldwell, on the flight to his death. The plane’s twin engines caught fire, and the aircraft exploded in flames over the South China Sea. No remains were ever found.

When the two uniformed officers approached Catalina’s home to inform her of her husband’s death, her mind was racing. Her house was filled with the energetic activity of her children and their friends playing, doing homework, reading—being children. Chaos filled her home and her thoughts as she tried to listen to the officers tell her the findings of the investigation. She wondered how she would survive, how—with no education or training beyond a high-school diploma from Mexico—she would provide for her five children.

She wondered how she would tell her children that their father would not be coming home for Christmas that year—or any year . . . that he was with God now. She bit back her tears as she began to gather what strength she could to get through this moment to the next.

As it turned out, Catalina and her family continued to be blessed by her husband’s military duty, even after his death. The U.S. Army took care of a family of a soldier lost in a war, making sure that my mother was able to move forward with her life and support her children. She was able to place a down payment on a modest house and go back to school. Catalina earned not only her bachelor’s degree, but also her master’s in education, all while working full-time as a teacher and teaching adult-education classes in the evenings. In 1981, my mother received an award for Outstanding Teaching and Learning in Education in recognition of all her hard work and accomplishments.

Thanks to the assistance given by the army, each of her five children had the opportunity to attend college. Her two sons chose to follow in their father’s footsteps, and were commissioned as officers in the U.S. Army when they completed college. They served their country just as their father had done. Her youngest son is presently a major in the Texas National Guard.

All this was made possible by the life and death of my father, SSgt. Floyd Dean Caldwell, and his service to our country. Catalina says prayers of gratitude each night for how her husband’s life was not given in vain. During his life, he served in a war fought for freedom and democracy. His death enabled his wife and family to be taken care of in ways that Catalina would never have dreamed of. When my mother, Catalina Caldwell, speaks with reverence and gratitude about the life that her husband gave in service to this country, she never fails to mention the ways this country gave back to her and her family.

Lora Vivas

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