When they came to tell Geri Stephenson that her marine was dead, she didn't have to ask which one.
She knew. She had known ever since Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf got on television that morning and said, "The marines lost two light armored vehicles." One of the LAVs was blown up near Khafji, Saudi Arabia, where Geri's first son, Dion, was stationed. The news didn't give names, but it said the seven marines killed in the explosion were the first U.S. casualties of Operation Desert Storm.
She knew. Typical Dion. Had to be first in everything.
Death had its choice of Stephensons that night. Dion's younger brother Shaun had followed him to Desert Storm. Typical Shaun. Anything Dion did, Shaun did right behind him. Anything Dion did, Shaun wanted to do better. And the only thing Shaun wanted more than to be better than Dion was to be exactly like Dion. That's the funny thing. Shaun, who was 19, had wanted to be in that LAV that night, wanted to fight the Iraqis alongside his 22-year-old brother, but the brass hadn't gone for it. Instead, Shaun was on a tank landing ship 200 miles from Khafji.
Geri knew. Schwarzkopf hadn't mentioned tank ships.
All that longest day she had stared through the window, expecting them, dreading them, hating them. She needed to be alone with her terror that night, so she and her husband, Jim, went to sleep in separate beds, she in their room, he in Dion's, the one with the walls almost entirely covered by swimming medals and soccer ribbons and prom king pictures.
When they finally came, at 2 a.m., she peeked through the Venetian blinds and saw an Army chaplain and two Marine corpsmen waiting on the stoop. Two officers from the Bountiful, Utah, police department waited in a black-and-white on the steep street out front. Five people, as though the message they bore was so heavy that it took that many to carry it.
"May we come in, Mrs. Stephenson?" the chaplain asked.
She was sheet-white, wide-eyed and numb.
"No," she said.