Working as a nurse in a combat support hospital in Afghanistan, I met many brave servicemen. On a hot evening in May 2011, an injured Marine was brought into the unit with terminal injuries which meant our job would ultimately be to pronounce his time of death. I never even saw his face; it was already covered when they brought him in. A medic and I emptied the contents of his pockets to send home to his family and found a journal in his side arm pocket containing a picture of two little girls. This hit me hard; these men are risking everything for strangers. This nameless, faceless Marine gave his life for people like me.
Over the years, I found myself thinking about this man and felt compelled to know who he was. I went online to see who had been killed on May 12, 2011 and found him. Sgt. Kevin Balduf was his name and he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, two minutes from my home. On May 12, 2014, the third anniversary of his death, accompanied by three friends, I visited the grave of this courageous Marine. In front of his headstone, I knelt and wept; there was a picture of him and, curiously, a plate containing what looked to be chocolate cake. Someone who cared for him had obviously been there recently.
As I was kneeling, I heard a woman’s voice inquiring, “Excuse me, did you know Kevin?” I answered, “I was his nurse in Afghanistan.” Looking up I noticed she was accompanied by a young man as the woman quietly responded, “I am Kevin’s mom and this is his twin brother, Kyle.”
For three years, I tried to suppress the memory of Kevin Balduf’s death. Within a few short moments, he became real to me; he was more than a nameless, faceless Marine, he was a man who was a son, a father, and a brother. He had a name and I could see him in the face of his twin brother.
Kevin’s mom said she never received the things we took off him that day. She asked if he carried a photo of his little girls with him. She had asked the one and only question I could answer for her. Through my tears I responded, “Yes ma’am. He kept a photo of his girls in his side arm pocket.”
Walking away from Arlington that day, I knew this experience would stay with me for a lifetime, but it wasn’t until a few years later when I really started to go deeper in my relationship with the Lord that I truly realized how God wanted to use Kevin in my life. It was a longer journey of continuing to hear from God about my time overseas in Afghanistan, learning to forgive, and eventually finding peace when I said “yes” to the Lord’s prompting to visit Kevin’s grave. It wasn’t a coincidence that his mom and brother were there that day; the Lord guided my steps. My healing process was a long and painful one but I believe I received the ultimate restoration in being united with his family.