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The bond between Marines is indescribable. Where else can two US Marines run into each other in the middle of nowhere and instantly become friends? It’s a Marine thing. This bond also encourages Marines to do remarkable things for other Marines, regardless of active duty or not. In the below case a terrible situation is turned for the better as one Marine understands how important the Simple things are and how simple things matter.

Time for a CGar!

Marine's widow eternally grateful for ring's return

Her husband didn’t return from Afghanistan, 
but his platoon made sure the symbol of their love did
By LINDSAY WISE, HOUSTON CHRONICLE

Sgt. Jared Hammonds frantically scanned an Afghan poppy field, searching for a glint of silver in the soil.

The 27-year-old Marine reservist from Conroe was looking for a wedding band.

The ring belonged to Staff Sgt. Jeremy Smith, 26, of Arlington, who lay dead a few feet away. He had been wearing it on a chain around his neck when his platoon came under fire, but in the chaos of the battlefield it had gone missing.

There was nothing more Hammonds could do for his friend except this one thing: Find the ring and return it to his wife, Rachel.

"I know he would do the same thing for me," Hammonds said.

•••

In the weeks after her husband's death, Rachel Smith, 25, dreamt that his body had been lost between Afghanistan and Texas.

"Really?! How do you lose him?" she demanded. No one could answer, and she awoke to the nightmare that her husband really had been lost to her.

He had died in an apparent friendly fire incident in southern Afghanistan on April 6, the day before his second wedding anniversary. Also killed was Navy corpsman Benjamin Rast, 23, from Michigan.

Both men served in Houston-based 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, also known as the Lone Star Battalion. Initial reports indicated they were mistaken for Taliban and killed by a missile fired from a U.S. Predator drone. The circumstances remain under investigation.

Of all the questions that burned in Rachel immediately after her husband's death, one in particular baffled her: Where was Jeremy's wedding ring? It wasn't in the casket with his body, or with the rest of his belongings that the Marines shipped to her in plastic trunks.

The mystery seemed minor compared with the how and why of the accident that caused his death, but Rachel needed to know. What if the ring never left Afghanistan, trampled in the dirt where her husband died, thousands of miles from home?

•••

Rachel met Jeremy on the Fourth of July in 2008, a week after moving to North Texas from Mississippi. She and her mother, Susan Whipp, had settled in to people-watch at a dancehall in Arlington when Jeremy walked up.

"I'm on fun patrol and just want to make sure you're having a good time," he said.

Rachel said they were fine, thanks but no thanks. Jeremy came back again a few more times. Each time Rachel brushed him off.

Undeterred, Jeremy asked Rachel to dance. She said no. So he asked her mom, who said yes.

While they two-stepped across the dance floor, Jeremy asked if it was OK if he asked Rachel for her number. Whipp was charmed. She whispered in her daughter's ear: "He's so cute. You need to go dance with him."

Rachel relented. They danced to Just Got Started Loving You, before the music switched to hip hop.

"Jeremy started doing these Michael Jackson moves, dipping and kicking his legs and having a good old time," Rachel recalled. His goofy performance routed all her defenses. She gave him her number.

The next day, they stayed up talking until 5 a.m., and found that they had a lot in common.

Jeremy had served three tours in Iraq with the Marine Corps. Rachel was a military brat. She grew up riding Harleys with her father, an Air Force veteran. Jeremy rode a Harley. They had the same zany sense of humor.

"It only took a day and I was sold," Rachel said. They were married on April 7, 2009.

"I was marrying the man I was going to be with forever," Rachel said. "It was one of the best days and the best things that's ever happened to me, and I felt so lucky."

•••

A year and a half later, Jeremy mobilized for deployment to Afghanistan with 1/23.

"I was miserable," Rachel said. "I did not want him to go, but I would not tell him to stay, never. I said, 'If this is what you want to do because you love it so much, do it. … It's not like you're not coming back to me.'"

After four months of training in California, Jeremy's battalion shipped out in March.

Rachel was at her human resources job at a trucking company in April when she got a call from a man who said he was with the Marines. He needed to talk to her in person. She told him she didn't want to hear what he had to say. He said he would be there in 45 minutes.

Rachel was shaking. She called her mom. They told each other it must some kind of elaborate anniversary stunt from Jeremy.

The arrival of four grim-looking Marines quashed that hope.

"The second they walked into my office, it was like a big somber blanket drifted over everybody, and I just knew," Rachel said.

"You know when 4-year-olds throw tantrums and can't stop crying and screaming and can't compose? It was like that."

•••

Hammonds found the ring in the dirt that April morning in Afghanistan. He has no idea how long it took him. He lost all sense of time, he said.

His commander, Maj. Mark Wood, said the young man was completely exposed as he searched the field, presenting a perfect target for the Taliban who'd been shooting at the Marines that day.

"It's not only amazing what he did to try to find it," Wood said. "It's even more amazing that (he) found it."

It took a few days for the story to reach Rachel, who was stunned.

"I would never in a million years ask anybody to do something like that, but in the same breath I'm very, very thankful," she said.

"It was luck," Hammonds said. He paused, then changed his mind.

It was Jeremy, he said. "It was him showing me where it is."

•••

On Saturday, Jeremy's battalion returned home without him. Rachel went to Ellington Field to welcome the men back.

"I'd regret it if I didn't go," she said. "I'm ecstatic that they're home, and I can't wait to see them because now it's like I'm going into Jeremy's shoes and I have to go make sure they're OK  …  because he's not there to do it."

After everyone else had kissed and hugged and left the airfield, Hammonds and other Marines from her husband's platoon returned the ring to Rachel in a private ceremony, along with a journal Jeremy kept.

One by one, the men told Rachel what Jeremy meant to them. Everyone wept.

Rachel will wear her husband's ring on a necklace. "I think I'll feel better with it being closer to my heart," she  said.

 

Comments

  1. Great story…. This unit returned to the states flying into March ARB in California … I was part of the Patriot Guard Riders who met the 1/23 and escorted them to Camp Pendleton before they left for home…Had I known this story.. I would have found Sgt. Jared Hammonds and thanked him for his extra effort and finding the ring for Rachel.. Semper Fi fits perfectly here… Our PGR had an awesome time with these Marines even tho the time was short… Thanks again for this story and many thanks again to our Marines..

  2. What can you say, Marines are just a special sort of people. My thanks to all of them for protecting me and my loved ones.

  3. Dang dust! Keeps getting into my eyes, badly… Though somehow, it doesn’t surprise me at all that this happened. It is just another one of those “Its A Marine Thing”. Knowing one very personally, this sounds like something he would do, too. God Bless the U.S. Marines! God Bless the USA!

  4. Sgt Jared Hammonds you are one beautiful man. There may be one or two men in the world that I know that might have thought about recovering that ring but I can’t think of one that would have put their life on the line to follow through. Oh my gosh, here comes those tears again. God bless you, sir.

  5. I walked by SSgt. Smith’s memorial in HQ today. I’m new to the unit, and didn’t know the full story. After reading this, the tears in my eyes again remind me of the pain of loss that so many cannot comprehend, a pain that I pray fewer have to endure. Semper Fidelis, SSgt. I know God will hold you close, until you get to hold her close again.

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