By Sgt. Jessica M. Kuhn/XVIII Abn. Corps PAO September 9, 2011
As Sgt. James M. Nolen prepared to leave for his second deployment, his young stepson, Will, 7, repeatedly asked why his daddy had to leave?
For Nolen, it was a simple answer.
He looked at Will and asked the young boy to remember what he told about what happened on 9/11. Nolen reminded Will about those bad people who crashed airplanes into the buildings taking all those Americans' lives. He then assured his son that was going over there to fight and protect him and all Americans, recalled Rachel, Nolen's widow.
Sgt. James M. Nolen, made the ultimate sacrifice on Nov. 22, 2009 while serving in Afghanistan.
As the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 nears, Soldiers and their Families are still being affected by the tragic events that happened that day.
"I never would have guessed that one event (9/11) would have impacted my life so much with my husband being killed in Afghanistan," said Rachel, a native of Spartanburg, S.C.
Rachel said they had been married almost a year when she got the news of his death.
"I was about four and half months pregnant when I saw the men walking up my driveway, and I knew immediately why they were there," Rachel tearfully remembered. "Once I saw them step out of their car, I knew what had happened -- James was gone."
In an instant, Rachel's dreams she had shared with her now deceased husband of having a Family together were gone, she explained.
"We were going to have our little Family, and he was going to be here," she said.
However, Nolen didn't come home and now she was left all alone with only memories and two children.
"James was amazing; he was my best friend," Rachel happily recalled. "He couldn't help but smile. His friends would joke around with him because they would be out in the field after days and days and everyone else would be mad and annoyed, but he would still be smiling."
Moreover, her husband is remembered for his patriotism and love of being a Soldier, she said.
"(The events of) 9/11 really impacted him, it was really what made him want to join the Army -- seeing what happened that day," Rachel said. "That, and he really just loved the Army. He wanted to be infantry; he loved guns and was just a good old Texas boy."
Above all, Rachel feels it's important her daughter and son remember their father.
"We celebrate him; we have a memorial garden at the house," Nolen explained. "We talk about him all the time, and I tell them stories about him."
Rachel wants to make sure her daughter, who never met her father, knows what type of person he was.
"When you ask Jamie where her daddy is she points at pictures of him," Nolen said. "She knows who her daddy is."
Rachel said she is grateful for the support she has received and noted how certain programs the Army has developed have been essential to her working through the loss of her husband.
"After James was killed, I was introduced to Charlotte Watson, a program manager for the Survivor Outreach Program. They have amazing stuff for the children and other widows in the program, and it's a great way to meet other widows because after my husband was killed, I really didn't know where I fit in anymore," she said.
"Rachel was my first pregnant widow. It was really hard on her at first being pregnant and losing her husband, but over the last year she really has grown and embraced life as a widow. She really takes advantage of all the programs and events we put on here," said Watson.
"There is so much support you don't feel alone. What you walk through is scary but I don't feel alone. I have people around me who understand and are compassionate," Rachel said.
"Rachel is an example of how you can overcome the loss of your spouse; I'm really proud of how far she has come," Watson added. "She is really strong and has really persevered through her tragedy."
Nolen has some advice for other widows or people out there who might be going through the same thing.
"Take it day by day; actually minute by minute. Don't rush yourself -- there is no timeline," Rachel said.
"Everyone told me that after this point you will feel better, a year went by and I still wasn't fine. I still miss him just as much as I did the day he was killed."